Divorce is a stressful event for all involved. Unfortunately, many children get caught up in their parents’ divorce. Many have no clue that their parents are dealing with marital strife until Mom or Dad breaks the news, and breaking the news is no easy task. It is like telling your little one that the family dog died. So, this begs the questions: How do you tell the children you are getting divorced?
No matter the reason for the divorce, seeing their parents split up can be devastating for children. For a youngster who depends on those parents, a divorce can mean the end of a feeling of security. Who will take care of them now? It is not uncommon for children to feel insecure, anxious, sad, and upset as they are forced to split their time between two homes.
If you are going through a divorce, you inevitably have a lot on your mind. Discussing the situation with your children may not seem as important as other things. However, with the right planning, you can help your child transition to a normal life after a divorce. Read on for a handy guide that can help.
Planning a Discussion
Divorce is not something that should be taken lightly. It is not like you can just walk up to your child and say “Hey, Mommy and Daddy are getting a divorce.” Here are some tips to help you plan your conversation:
- Come to an agreement. You and your ex should break the news together. You need to be a united front during this time, so agree on what you will tell the kids and make sure to tell them together.
- Schedule the discussion. Make a plan to break the news at a time when everyone is relaxed. Do not attempt to tell the kids about the divorce right before they go to school, while in the car, or right before bedtime. A weekend day is best.
- Think about how the children will react. Children will need a lot of reassurance during this time. They may think that they are the ones to blame. Kids thrive on routine and stability, so make sure to explain how the divorce will affect their lives.
- Let others know. Friends, family members, teachers and babysitters should be aware of the situation. That way, if they notice any unusual behavior, they will know why and will be more likely to let you know.
Engaging in a Discussion
Now that you have the discussion planned, it is time to take action. Here are some guidelines for talking to your child about divorce, based on their age.
- Babies and toddlers: Children at these ages cannot understand complex events and do not fully understand their feelings. They do not understand the concept of marriage and divorce, so discussing it with them would be futile.
- Preschoolers: Preschoolers are starting to understand feelings a bit more. They have a hard time differentiating between fantasy and reality and do not have a strong concept of the future. Children may require many simple explanations about what to expect.
- Ages 6-8: Children at these ages still have a limited understanding about divorce, but they are better able to express their feelings. They are also starting to develop friendships, which can help them through this difficult time.
- Ages 9-11: During these ages, children tend to see things in black and white. They may feel as though they are to blame for the divorce. Children ages 9-11 are better able to develop relationships with others and may be involved in more extracurricular activities.
- Ages 12-14: Kids at this age have a greater understanding of divorce. Many may have friends whose parents have gotten divorced, so they may have some idea of the process. Children at this age may have many questions about divorce. They are also at an age where they desire more independence and may defy authority. Relationships outside of the family are important at this age, so expect your child to lean on friends and adults (teachers, coaches, etc.) for support.
- Ages 15 and up: Even though children at this age are leaning toward adulthood, divorce can still be difficult. Older teens are dealing with the trials and tribulations of high school. They may be concerned about college and life as adult, and feel as though they are alone during this time.
Making Things Easier on the Children
While there is no magic way to eliminate all the stress involved with divorce, there are some ways to make the process easier on the kids.
- Do not use the children as pawns: Many couples make this mistake. They use the children to send messages back and forth between the parents. They may bribe or threaten the other parent by using the children. This hurts children tremendously.
- Find a way to communicate effectively: Parents are the grownups in the family and they should act that way. Refusing to tell the other parent important details is not helpful. Whether you prefer to talk to your ex in person, via email, text, or phone, you need to find a tried and true method of communication that allows you to co-parent effectively.
- Be respectful of the other parent: Never badmouth the other parent, especially in front of the children. Try to be cordial at all times. Be on time and have children ready for pickups. Make sure they are in the loop on important information. Do not lie or try to hide things that involve the child.
Get Legal Help
A divorce affects not only the spouses but the children, as well. However, waiting to divorce until your child becomes an adult is not always a viable option. If you are divorcing with children, it is important to be prepared.
You need to have a plan in place based on the age of your child. You need to talk to them in an age-appropriate manner, which can be difficult as you face your own stress and struggles with the divorce.
If you are ready to divorce, contact Scott J. Stadler to schedule a consultation. He has more than 30 years of experience helping couples navigate the divorce process. Contact his office at (954) 346-6464.