Telling your child about your divorce is a tough talk, but one that you need to have so that they understand what is going on, know what to expect in the coming months, and most of all, feel secure about their future. The way you approach this topic will depend largely on the age of your child; different age groups will relate to and understand the topic differently. Most experts agree the time to talk to the kids is a few weeks before the divorce becomes final. According to Today’s Parent magazine, the following approaches work well for preschoolers, kids, and teens.
Kids under 5
Infants and toddlers don’t need a lot of explanation; simple, basic explanations work best. Explaining which parent will be moving elsewhere, where the child will be living and how their routine will change is likely enough. Answer any questions and plan on having this conversation a few times as you progress through the process. Kids at this age are adaptable and just need to know they’ll be cared for and loved, no matter where they are living.
Elementary school kids: For older kids, you’ll need to give a little more detail, but the 6 to 11 crowd is still going to want reassurance about where they will be living and how the divorce will impact them. Preparing your child means talking about the basics and fielding questions about everything from “who will drive us to school” to “do I get two rooms”. It’s a good idea to bring teachers and other trusted adults into the loop during this process so that they can provide support as well.
Older kids in this age group already have a grasp on any strife in the home, even if you try to hide it; they also likely know one or more kids that have divorced parents. You know your kids better than anyone, so giving them the level of detail that seems appropriate, staying positive and talking about what they can expect can help a great deal. Older kids may be more stressed by the process or even feel like they are to blame. You may need to talk things out many times after the initial conversation just to make sure they are in the right place.
Teens 12 and Up
Older kids have a far greater ability to understand what is going on and may have pointed questions for you. While they are less likely to think they are at fault, they are far more likely to assign blame to one parent or the other. Your divorce is happening right at the most chaotic and hormonal time – puberty, so expect some anger, irritability, and sadness to come into play.
They may seem older and more independent, but this group needs support just as much as your younger kids. Letting coaches, tutors, and other adults know what is going on can help build a supportive community for your teen; so can making sure they know what to expect and setting up a stable routine in the home.
Divorce is an unsettling time for kids, but by taking the time to talk them through the process and reassure them about their own well-being and future, you can minimize the impact it has on your kids. If both parents can provide a unified front and answer questions without strife or assigning blame, the kids will benefit as well. Get the help you need with your separation and divorce; contact our office to learn about the next steps. Our goal is to help your entire family through this difficult time and ensure you get the fresh start you all deserve.