Children born into a two-parent household are born without an understanding of marriage or divorce. However, many parents will need to explain to their children that they are getting a separation or divorce. Talking with a child about getting a divorce is undoubtedly tricky; however, it is equally important. Children should hear about divorce from their parents, not from neighbors, parents’ friends or other children at school.
Divorce is a challenging time for the family. To help with the process below is a comprehensive list of suggestions on approaching the conversation around divorce. When speaking with children about getting a divorce, it is important to remember that every child is different, and you understand your children the best. Advice coming from someone who does not know your child should be taken with healthy skepticism.
Plan Out What You Want To Say
Children thrive in a consistent and predictable environment. When telling your child that you will get divorced, you should select a time that allows the child to process the information and ask questions. For example, informing a child that their parents are getting a divorce on Thanksgiving or in the middle of an emotional episode is not a good idea.
Both Parents Should Be a Part of the Conversation
Many children cannot fully understand the impact of divorce and will often see divorce through the lens of how it will affect them. This is normal and expected. However, it also highlights the importance of showing the children that you and your spouse are committed to providing for the children and willing to work together for their sake.
Avoid the Blame Game
Most talk about divorces is laden with blame-heavy language. While this is normal, it can also make the news much harder to hear for the children. When talking to children about divorce, providing them with the truth is less important than conveying a feeling of safety and security. Whenever possible, consider using “we statements” rather than focusing on the actions or desires of one parent.
Explain Why (if Asked)
Younger children may not press parents too hard for an answer about why their parents are getting divorced. However, older children will certainly want to know why their lives are suddenly about to change. It is important to remember that older children may be on the cusp of grasping some of the issues involved in your relationship, and leaving them with too many questions is not good for them as individuals or their relationship with both parents. Children need to know that their parents are going to support and care for them no matter what. Providing explicit or detailed information about your marriage and divorce for the sake of “being honest with the kids” is not in their best interest.
Go Over the Future
Upon hearing that their parents are getting a divorce, children will want to know what the future will look like. Remember that it is entirely normal for children to process divorce in terms of how it impacts their life. Before talking to them, have most of the big-picture details worked out so you can tell them what things will look like in the future. Explain what will change and what will stay the same.
Reassure Children It Is Not Their Fault
Reassurance is key when it comes to talking with children about getting a divorce. While the thought that the divorce is their fault may not enter some children’s minds, others may assume that to be the case. Be clear in articulating that your decision to get divorced had nothing to do with them (even if parenting differences were a factor).
Use Age-Appropriate Language
The final thing to remember when discussing divorce with children is that children of all ages interpret divorce differently and have varying levels of comprehension. For younger children, the consistency of their daily routine is critical. Thus, you may want to focus on what aspects of their lives will stay the same after the divorce.
Children between five and 12 will naturally have a greater understanding of the long-term effect of divorce on their lives. Thus, you may consider allowing them more time to process the information and encourage questions. You can use example-based language to help older children feel more comfortable sharing their feelings, such as “some kids feel sad when they hear that their parents are getting a divorce.”
Teenagers already have a lot going on in their lives, making hearing about divorce especially upsetting. Teens may be going through a phase of questioning parents and may have already picked up on signs that you and your spouse are not getting along. Some teens will withdraw, while others will pepper you with questions. It is crucial to keep open lines of communication with teens so they feel comfortable discussing the divorce with you and sharing their true feelings.
If you are considering a divorce and fear the impact that it will have on your children, it is important to realize that not all divorces are the same. Even when parents share little in common, there is still room for an amicable divorce. Attorney Jason Wright is a preeminent Austin family law attorney with extensive experience handling all types of Texas divorces. He is a skilled negotiator and understands that significant benefits that stem from avoiding litigation. Whenever possible, Wright relies on mediation to work out thorny issues. To learn more about how the Law Office of Jason Wright can help your family through the divorce process, you can reach him directly at 512-884-1221. You can also contact him through his online form.