In some households it may come as no surprise to the children that their parents are divorcing depending on the age of the children and the parent’s argument style, whether screaming matches out in the open or hushed voices in the evening after the kids have gone to bed. No matter their age and what’s going on, there are a lot of incidents and decisions that two people go through before they decide to get divorced. It is usually though not always a permanent move. How you tell them will affect their behavior and reaction and how they deal with things such as relationships when they get older. So the children need to be told about the divorce is an upfront and honest fashion. Depending upon their age, they may need more or less information and the message needs to be nuanced or simplified. Here are some ways to help your kids understand the divorce better. First, call a family meeting with both parents present. Parents often have a tendency to blame one another about the divorce when the ex-spouse isn’t around. But this strategy isn’t available at this time. Make sure you and your ex plan what you are going to say to them. Everyone should stay calm and composed. You should allow them to ask any questions they want and answer them as straightforward as possible. Make a plan to have a follow up meeting just to see how everyone is doing and if there are any other questions the want answered.
Many children just need to know the basics. Young children will want to know how it affects their life such as if someone will be there to help them with their homework, get them ready for school and tuck them in at night. They also should know that their relationship with both parents will only change. But both parents will still love them, listen to them, respect them and take care of their needs. The number one thing children need to know is that their parents will still love them. Some children think that a divorce happens as a result of some bad behavior they once exhibited. Children need to be reassured that it has nothing to do with them or something that they did. Instead, it’s a problem of parents not getting along. Make sure they know that they are not responsible. Really listen to what the children have to say. If they feel they aren’t being heard it seems to them that you don’t care. That’s the worst message for them to get. By listening to what they have to say it shows you are concerned about what they think and that you care. Realize that there may be some behavioral changes after divorce. Young children tend to get clingier while adolescents may feel abandoned or betrayed, and may act more independent or even rebellious. Younger children tend to blame themselves while older children, adolescence and teenagers tend to blame their parents.
For younger children, repeatedly tell them that it isn’t their fault. Take good care of them and show them that their needs will be met. Talk to them about their feelings, their fears and their thoughts and get a sense of where they are at. Be supportive of the children having a loving relationship with the other parent. Make sure you tell them who will be attending special occasions, such as if you are bringing a new boyfriend or girlfriend so it isn’t jarring. For adolescents, keep the lines of communication open. If they wall themselves up in their room try texting, emailing, calling and other ways to communicate to see if they feel more comfortable doing it electronically, or can express themselves more freely. Do not have your teenage son or daughter as a confidant. They are not old enough for that and it will whittle away at your parenting capabilities. Share these things with family and friends instead. Have or keep to certain family routines and rituals. Be open and be there for them if they wish to talk. Spend time with them, even if it’s just out to eat, a movie at home or an afternoon at the beach. Let them know time and again how much you love them. Also encourage a relationship with the other parent. For more on this topic, be sure to read Making Divorce Easier on Your Child: 50 Effective Ways to Help Children Adjust by Nicholas Long and Rex Forehand.