Every year over one million parents have to talk to their kids about divorce. For each parent, the discussions differ, but the goals of the discussions are universal: to openly and honestly reassure your child of your love. Divorce is painful and traumatic for all involved – spouses and children alike. We all happily begin our lives together full of shared hopes and dreams and committed to a lasting and loving relationship. Yet almost 50% of today’s marriages end in divorce.
How parents handle divorce, however, makes the difference in their children’s healthy adjustment or potential maladjustment. Here’s an example of how to begin talking to your child about your divorce. Let’s meet Brad: Brad is 9 years old and an only child. He’s the apple of his mother’s eye and dad’s best buddy. Brad is at the top of his class in school and participates in the school band and in the spelling bee. He’s also an active athlete – playing intramural hockey and soccer, and running competitively. Both of his parents attend all of his sports and school activities. One day to his surprise Dad takes him out after a soccer game and tells him "I have something sad to tell you. Mom and I are having a hard time, and you may have noticed something wasn’t right between us, and you are right. We’re going to live in different houses and you’ll be spending some of the week with me and some with your Mom. I know this will be difficult for all of us. So we should talk about it openly together and about what we’re both feeling." Discussing divorce with your children is never easy. Here are some tips to help ease this transition.
1. Communicate with your spouse (partner): Although things have not worked out in the marriage, the two of you still have children to raise together. Be sure you both are in agreement as to the timeline of the change and give your children clear dates and details. The more solid the plan, the less anxiety your child will experience.
2. Use age appropriate language and details: A five-year-old and ten-year-old understand very different things and have different levels of maturity. Follow their questioning before offering details. Be honest, but remember what is appropriate for the age of the child or they will not comprehend the situation.
3. Reassurance: Reassure them that they will continue to be loved and cared for by the two of you. Let your children know that your love for one another has changed, but that your love for them remains strong and constant. Reiterate that the divorce is not their fault.
4. Discretion: Make an agreement with your spouse to not speak badly about the other spouse to the children. Refrain from arguing in front of the children and do your best to keep them out of your conflict!
5. Know yourself: Be aware of your own feelings of hurt or anger. Do not make a child a confidant for the pain the divorce is causing you. Seek a support group to help you through this period. Share your feelings with friends and professionals. Children are not therapists!
Strive to be communicative and honest during and after the divorce process because there will be different degrees of feelings over the event as time goes on. If you’re communicating honestly, however, you can never hurt your child. About the AuthorDr. Charles Sophy currently serves as Medical Director for the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services. He also has a private psychiatry practice in Beverly Hills, California. Dr. Charles Sophy, author of the “Keep ‘Em Off My Couch” blog, provides real simple answers for solving life’s biggest problems. He specializes in improving the mental health of children.
To contact Dr. Sophy, visit his blog at http://drsophy.com.