Divorce is typically a sensitive and emotional event and can be quite difficult to talk about, especially with children. It is common for parents to struggle with communicating with their children about their divorce. Why?
Well, some parents are unsure what or how much to tell their kids about what is happening. Some parents are still extremely emotionally raw and vulnerable and worry about their ability to remain calm when talking with their kids about divorce. Still others fear talking with their kids about the divorce will overwhelm them, and may wonder if it is best to shield them from what is going on.
Although these worries are understandable, not talking about divorce can be detrimental to kids and can cause various behavioral and/or emotional issues down the road. Having a conversation with children about divorce may not only reduce any anxiety they may be experiencing, but can also help them prepare, both cognitively and emotionally, for the changes ahead.
If you are going through a divorce and are unsure about communicating with your child(ren), here are some helpful tips to keep in mind:
1. If possible, talk to your children about the divorce with the other parent.
This might be difficult, as some divorces can be quite contemptuous. However, having a joint conversation with your children has potential benefits. First, it ensures your kids are receiving the same message from both parents, which limits confusion and may create a sense of stability during a time of upheaval.
Second, it models that both of you are still a unified parenting front, which limits the perception your children can make plays to divide and conquer. Lastly, it helps reassure your children that their parents will continue to communicate and work hard to create a new family structure.
2. Be honest in answering questions.
Being honest is important for two reasons. First, kids are smart and can sense when they are given dishonest information. Feeling that parents are being dishonest can lead to resentment and anger.
Second, if kids are not told the truth, they may seek the answers themselves or create their own answers. By being honest and forthcoming, you may reduce a lot of potential anxiety. However, it is important to note being honest has its limits and there should be age-appropriate boundaries set around sharing information.
For example, while kids should be informed about logistical changes that will impact them, they should not be told about marital baggage (i.e., information that one parent had an affair). So, before responding to a question or sharing information, think about why you are sharing and whether it will help or hurt.
A family therapist can be a great resource for both parents and children and can help everyone find healthy ways to adjust to the changes associated with divorce.
3. Let your children know what life will be like after the divorce.
Divorce and the changes that come with it can be scary for kids. It is important to let them know what they can expect when it comes to things like where they will live, how much time they will have with each parent, etc.
If you and your ex are unsure about certain things, communicate that to your children and let them know you will share the information with them as soon as there is a decision. This may relieve a lot of the anxiety that comes with the unknown.
4. Emphasize that the divorce is final.
Losing their family as they have known it may be upsetting for your kids; they may even fantasize about their parents getting back together. It is important to make it clear divorce is final and that while you and your ex may continue to communicate and interact, it is simply as a co-parenting relationship. Kids may still fantasize about a reconciliation, but it will help if there are clear boundaries.