Thousands of couples experience the stress of divorce each year. However, notably children can experience similar reactions to their parent’s divorce. Based upon the age of the child or children reactions can often be influence by personality, circumstances, familial environment prior to separation or divorce, perception or confusion about living environment should a divorce occur. Events like divorce not only affects the couple involved in the relationship but the children as well. Typically, the initial reaction many children experience once they learn their parents are divorcing include, shock, fear, anxiety, frustration, sadness, or confusion. Divorcing parents can reduce a lot of the confusion and fears children may experience by telling them about the divorce as soon as the decision to divorce has been made. This discussion should be held after the couple have not only discussed when they want to talk to the children about the divorce but how they will relay this information as well. Talking to children about divorce should only occur after a firm decision to divorce has been made, not when the couple are extremely angry, seeking to hurt the other by threatening divorce, etc. Parents that discuss divorce with children because they are angry with their spouse or want to hurt their spouse will only end up both hurting and confusing their children. Parents are encouraged not to bring their children into the conflict they have having with the other spouse.
Once a decision has been made by the couple to end a marriage, children should you be told of the decision as soon as adequately possible. Although, it is natural for parents to want to shield their children from pain and discomfort by postponing the topic of divorce, they are simply postponing the inevitable. The longer it takes for parents to talk to their children about divorce and any impending changes the more likely parents are to increase their children’s feelings of confusion, frustration, sadness, and anxiety. Feelings of anxiety can cause parents to delay talking to their children about divorce which is not in a child’s best interest. It is preferable that both parents have a discussion with their children at the same time so that one parent is not depicted or viewed as the cause of the divorce or the villain. Once parents have decided to disclose their intensions to divorce it should be conveyed in a language that is age appropriate to the child or children to all children involved. The manner in which parents tell their child or children about their divorce often sets the tone for how children manage their feelings surrounding the divorce.
What to Consider When Telling Children About Divorce:
- Make sure children know that while parents are divorcing each other they are not divorcing their children.
- Ensure children know they are loved by both parents.
- Assure them they are not responsible for the divorce.
- Honestly answer their questions if there is to be a change in living or school environment.
- Assure them they will have ongoing contact and access to each parent.
- Remind children parents are not divorcing because they dislike or hate each other. It is not uncommon for children to want to obtain details about why parents are divorcing. However, parents should refrain from disclosing information that can damage or interfere with the child’s relationship with the other parent.
- Try and maintain a consistent and stable environment for children.
Things You Should Never Tell Children During a Divorce:
- Never speak negatively of the other parent or trash talk them.
- Never tell a child his or her parent does not love them anymore or he or she does not want to be a family anymore.
- Do not allow your sadness or frustrations surrounding the divorce to interfere with or prevent you from spending time with children.
- Do not hold any ill feelings you have about your ex against the children.
- Do not disclose damaging information about your spouse to the children, i.e., your mother or father is having an affair, he or she is starting a new family, etc.
- Never ignore a child’s request to ask questions about the divorce or express his or her feelings.
- Never try to prevent the other parent from being actively involved in their child’s life.
If parents cannot agree on how they should talk to their children about their divorce family therapy should be considered. Family therapy can be an invaluable source of resource for both telling children about the divorce as well as helping them manage their feelings.
Garon, R. J. (1999). Talking to Your Children About Separation and Divorce: A Handbook for Parents. Children of Separation and Divorce Centre Inc.