How to Prepare Your Child for Divorce: Tips for Parents
January has been tagged as ‘Divorce Month‘ in the United States and the United Kingdom as, every January, there is an unusually high volume of calls to family attorneys inquiring into divorce proceedings after the holidays.
The divorce statistics remain high, with approximately 40% of marriages ending in divorce in both the U.S. and the U.K. It is suggested that the stressors of the holiday season, such as expenses, family get-togethers, and decision making struggles, increase the pressure on couples. The strain lends itself to moving toward a path of divorce once the holidays are over.
In this case, parents look for tools to navigate divorce in healthy ways. In this article, we’ll outline how to prepare your child for divorce by discussing the ways in which children cope, outlining warning signs, and providing useful resources for you to learn more.
How Children Handle Divorce
Telling a child about a pending divorce is one of the most difficult conversations any parent could ever have — the oppressive weight of shame, continuous anxiety, and incredible guilt, are all part of what makes discussing divorce with a child a herculean task.
It can be easy to overlook a child’s sadness when parents are struggling to manage their own difficult emotions.
Research from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, shows that by the time they are adults, most people who experience divorce as young children are more likely to have relationship issues than those who grew up in typical non-divorced families.
The news of divorce hits kids of different ages differently. Age, maturity, and temperaments often affect how a child will take the news.
- 0 to 5-year-olds have little to no ability to understand complex events or understand their feelings. Story books on divorce can be useful in helping them process the situation and their emotions.
- 6 to 11-year-olds have more ability to think and talk about their feelings. They tend to have a broader view of what is going on around them but still lack a proper understanding of what divorce could be all about.
- 9 to 11-year-olds have a more developed ability to understand, think and talk about their feelings and circumstances related to divorce, and may assign blame for the split.
- 12 to 14-year-olds have a greater capacity to understand issues related to divorce and may question parents’ decisions and authority. They can take part in discussions and ask questions to increase their understanding.
Problem Signs of Divorce in a Child
Thousands of children experience the stress of divorce each year and how they react depends on their age and personality, and the circumstances of the divorce process.
Although divorce may be the appropriate choice for many couples, parents need to continue to pay close attention to their children in this complicated process and protect them from the emotional harm divorce often brings.
Your child might not say he or she is struggling but may express their difficulty to handle the separation through the following behaviors:
- Not wanting to be around family members and not cooperating with family routines, shutting himself or herself in the bedroom for long periods, or spending more time online
- Problem with school work
- Loss of appetite
- Getting angry, upset, or tearful more than usual
- Challenging your authority and breaking school rules
- Taking solace in drugs
When parents divorce, it can be hard for children to get used to a new way of life. Children need to know that their feelings are important and valued. As such, it’s vital to listen to them and legitimize their feelings. Encourage them to open up and let it all out. More importantly, remind them that you’ll be available to them, regardless of the situation.
Tips to Helping Children Cope
It’s natural for kids to hope that their parents will unite again. While holding on to such thoughts provides emotional assurance, it’s essential to explain the finality of your decision.
Here are some of the ways you can help them through the situation:
- Avoid playing the blame game. Confine negativity and blame to private therapy sessions or conversations with your therapist or friends.
- Do not make them feel torn between two parents.
- Provide young children with repeated reassurances that the divorce is not their fault and that you love them.
- Emphasize that both parents are still on the same team and the family will still be intact.
- Have open, calm conversations, especially if you have teenage children, and support their emotional reactions.
- Make scheduling family events your top priority.
- Keep visible conflicts, heated discussions and legal talk away from the kids.
- Let your child’s school know about the divorce so teachers might be able to watch out for changes in your child’s behavior.
- Consider the services of a counselor at this challenging period in your child’s life.
- Pick the right time to break the news, say an evening before the weekend, so your child has a few days to be sad and angry without obligations. Avoid breaking the news during birthdays and holidays.
- Ensure both parents are present to have the conversation and provide emotional support for the child.
- Be honest enough to explain to your child how both of you tried to fix the marriage but weren’t able to make it work. Give them the facts.
How to Prepare Your Child for Divorce: Useful Resources
The following are some positive resources with tips and tools for parents to navigate the process of divorce in healthy ways for their children.
- An article by Dr. Maker in Psychology Today highlights five critical do’s and don’ts that can help your children adapt positively to divorce and diminish family conflict in the process. Following these typical but important guidelines can protect your children and enhance their coping and resiliency.
- Rosalind Sedacca, the founder of the Child Centered Divorce Network who interviewed Dr. Maker on helping kids cope with divorce, provides numerous, helpful resources for parents.
- The Child Centered Divorce Network is sponsoring the International Child Centered Divorce Month and providing multiple resources, such as books, interviews, and articles focused on supporting parents through divorce.
Divorce is a significant life change for the entire family, with children the innocent victims. Even though property, custody, and financial issues can all add pressure to the divorce, it’s vital parents take ample time to manage the process and know how to talk about divorce with their kids.
While divorce is never easy, I hope these resources motivate parents to continue to be the best they can be, and provide assurance that, after the separation, a positive family life is still possible.