Divorce is hard on the whole family, especially the children. As confusing as it may be for you and your divorcing spouse, your kids are grappling with their own emotions and need to talk to you. Children often lack the coping skills needed to deal with the changes brought about by divorce, and they need your support in order to cope. Here are three things you and your divorcing spouse should keep in mind when talking to your children about divorce.
- Explain they aren’t at fault. Just as you may find yourself asking, “what could I have done to avoid this?” Your children are likely dealing with similar feelings of loss, anger, and self-blame. It’s normal for children’s egocentric nature to cause them to blame themselves for divorce. According to Meg F. Schneider and Joan Zuckerberg, Ph.D., authors of Difficult Questions Kids Ask About Divorce, young children have a “distorted sense of cause and effect” so they may make connections that you wouldn’t expect. For example, you daughter may think that her father left because she didn’t finish her homework last week. Be sure to explain that they are not at fault for mommy and daddy not being together any more.
- Don’t share too much. Kids don’t need to know that daddy was an oversexed narcissist and mommy couldn’t take it anymore. Nor do they need to know that mommy had an affair with Uncle Harry. Keep the nitty-gritty details to yourself, or better yet – work out your own issues with a professional or close friend. One of the biggest gifts you can give to your children is the gift of preserved respect for both of their parents. Let them maintain their image of their parents and allow them to grow up to be proud self-respecting adults. Remember that they see themselves as part of both of you, so when you criticize their parent, children internalize those negative feelings about themselves.
- Speak their language. Try to understand what stage your children are at in conceptualizing the divorce. Depending on their age, children may have difficulty processing or articulating their feelings. Consult with a child psychologist or read up on your child’s neurological and resultant cognitive abilities so you can understand how to best communicate with your child.
Your most important task before, during and after divorce is to keep the lines of communication open between you and your children. Even though it’s easy to retreat and lick your wounds during this difficult time, remember that your primary responsibility is your children. Listen to them and try to be as emotionally available as you can be in order to help them successfully adjust to the challenging changes that divorce brings for the whole family. To learn more about how to communicate with your children about divorce, contact us today.