Going through a divorce can be a stressful period for all parties involved. It can take an emotional toll on children, since they don’t understand what is going on. Depending on the nature of the divorce and the feelings of both parents, it can be tempting to hide what’s happening from the kids until the divorce is finalized.
However, research suggests that parents who mutually communicate with their children before, during, and after a divorce produce better and healthier outcomes for their child’s welfare.
Here are some ways we can help a child understand divorce:
1. Work with your partner regarding custody and parenting. Before breaking the news to our child, first try to team up with your co-parent and make decisions how the child will be raised. Agreeing to joint custody and outlining planned, scheduled visits with the child provides an opportunity to share responsibilities after splitting.
2. Find the perfect time to tell them. When it comes to telling kids the news that their parents are no longer “together,” choose a moment when there is ample time to comfort them and answer questions.
3. Tell them the news together. Regardless of the nature of the breakup, sitting down together with children and spending time to talk can ease their anxiety regarding a sudden change in the household. Ideally, let the child know the decision to part was made by both parents.
4. Use simple words. Use terms that children can easily understand. Spare them any legal jargon and prepare to answer any questions they might have. Children can become overwhelmed when their lifestyle and daily routine changes so let them speak and vent express their feelings.
5. Avoid blaming each other. Children who see parents argue and bicker may blame themselves for the breakup. Hearing one parent say, “Your father is a cheater” can build resentment and self-doubt. While it’s painful to go through a divorce, remember that children are unlikely to understand the mechanics of a relationship ending, and need reassurance during this difficult time.
6. Constant reassurance. Because of the many changes that will likely occur in their lives, a child may become terrified of the possibility that a parent may leave them, too. Remember to assure your children that their parents love them very much and they have no fault in the matter.
Going through a divorce is difficult for everyone. While partners may not see eye-to-eye on relationship issues, we must put our children first and make them feel loved and safe. A child may have unexpected behavioural responses and experience stress/anxiety in reaction to this major life change. Parents may be unsure how to address these reactions. In these instances, professional family or child counselling may help.
Wendy Limarzi offers children’s counselling in Windsor, Ontario. Please call to inquire about services that could help ease stress and conflict during divorce or the breakup of any partnership. Please call us at (519) 253-1519 email; we’re here to assist.