One of the most difficult parts of divorce is having the conversation with your children about the plan for divorce. Children have various levels of understanding based on their age so approaching the topic based on their maturity level plays a crucial role for the preparation of this difficult conversation. The number one tip during this process is assuring your child that it is not their fault. This experience can be highly stressful and emotional for your child so your patience, reassurance, and support is particularly important during these times.
Come up with a game plan for the discussion process
- Plan an appropriate day where both parents can be present. For example, don’t plan a day before a birthday party or major social event.
- Adjust the discussion based on your child’s maturity level. Younger children need less detail whereas older children may require more openness and transparency.
- Avoid bad-mouthing or blaming the other parent. This is important so that your child won’t feel caught in the middle or torn between both parents.
Address the things that will stay the same
- Using the pronoun “we” can be helpful for this conversation. For example, “We know that this change may be very disappointing for you, and we can understand where you may be upset. Please know that while some things may change, what will not change is our love for you and that fact that we will both still be your parents.”
- Addressing immediate/future changes while talking about what will remain consistent for the child. For example, one parent may be remaining in the home and one may be moving away. Yet, explain to the child that for a while the family may still engage in weekly family dinners or one parent may still be at home to put the child to bed.
- Fully listen and answer your child’s questions and concerns with extra love and support.
Offer reassurance and loving support
- It is very important to overly communicate the fact that the divorce is not the fault of the children. Children and teens often inappropriately take responsibility for difficult events in their lives. Directly communicating that this is not their fault can help them avoid feeling guilty or ashamed.
- Provide reassurance in ways that make them feel comfortable. Many children do not feel comfortable sitting on a couch and having difficult discussions. Most children do better having conversations while at play, sharing in an activity, and having these conversations in short bursts over a period of time.
- Reassure children while talking about what will change in the divorce process. Children are able to hear about upcoming change when parents present this information in a clear, calm, and reassuring way.
Seek Support for Them or Yourself if Things Become Too Overwhelming
- Many parents need reassurance that their plan for discussing divorce will not place undue stress or hardship on their children. Conversations with a professional may provide parents with the reassurance that they are not harming their children and are continuing to create an environment in which their children will thrive.
- Seeking professional help may also assist the family in overcoming reactions and behaviors that are concerning or difficult. While many children go through divorce without major distress or long-term hardship, many parents feel most comfortable establishing care with a professional “just in case” their children have difficulty.
Divorce for children can be a painful and hard experience that comes with a rollercoaster ride of emotions. It’s important to come up with a gameplan, avoid blaming/bad-mouthing the other parent and offering as much reassurance, empathy, and loving support.
At Biltmore Psychology and Counseling, we are passionate about helping parents through their divorce journey. We understand that this is a journey that is best done with support and we are here to help provide strategies to help with dealing. Let us know if you would be interested in learning more about our divorce counseling services.