how to explain divorce to young children
A divorce can take a tremendous toll on young children. By taking the time to explain the situation and encouraging open communication, parents can help to ease the emotional burden placed on their kids. While making the decision to speak to a child about divorce can be difficult in itself, it often leaves parents with another question; how?
age is crucial
How you speak to your child can depend on their age as well as their mental development. As children get older, they are able to process more complex ideas and may learn how to mask their feelings. Understanding your child’s development can make a vital difference in how you tailor your message. Typically, younger children respond better to simple concrete ideas that provide reassurance on how the divorce will affect them specifically. Multiple conversations with younger children may be required before they begin to grasp the situation.
how do they react?
Once you breach the subject of divorce, be on the lookout for any signs that your child is attempting to process the information. Children may not always understand their feelings or know how to express themselves. Emotions can manifest through redirected anger or frustration. Other times, children may attempt to carry on as if nothing has changed.
If you feel as though a child is attempting to avoid the issue altogether, an indirect approach may help. For example, mentioning that children often have questions, rather than asking your child directly if they have questions may help kids to open up.
While speaking to children about divorce, be sure to reinforce the notions that:
- The divorce is not their fault: One of the most important points to express is that nothing the child has done led to the divorce. They are not and should not feel responsible for the changes that are happening.
- It is okay to feel sad, frustrated, and anxious: Each child will interpret and react to divorce in a different way. Some children act out while others may become withdrawn. Whatever they are feeling, it is okay to be sad and it is okay to reach out for help.
- Many families go through a divorce: Factors which set children apart from other kids can often be interpreted negatively. Emphasize that a divorce does not make them different from other children.
- Both parents will still be an active part of their life: Children are understandably concerned with how upcoming changes will affect them. A divorce does not mean that they will “lose” either parent.
Conflict and disagreement are inherent parts of any divorce and it can be difficult for spouses to contain emotions such as anger and frustration. Do not redirect these feelings or vent to children. Even if you feel as though your spouse’s specific actions led to a divorce, do not say that to a child. Badmouthing your spouse or painting one parent as the “bad guy” can hurt their parent-child relationship and hinder your child’s emotional development.
Legal help for parents
There is no universal strategy for speaking to kids about divorce and if your marriage has begun to break down, the right legal guidance can be invaluable. At the GEM Family Law Firm in Colorado, we understand the emotional and legal issues that divorcing parents must overcome and have substantial experience helping families to find the most appropriate solutions. If you have questions about divorce, child custody, or visitation, do not hesitate to contact our Denver family law attorneys.