How To Tell Kids About Divorce And Help Them Cope With It

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“Divorce is a fire exit. When a house is burning, it doesn’t matter who set the fire. If there is no fire exit, everyone in the house will be burned!” – Mehmet Murat ildan (Turkish writer)

Riya built a beautiful sand castle on the beach side along with her dad and mom. Just when she was admiring her castle, it was blown by the wind and washed away by the water. Poor Riya was disheartened. Unfortunately, the same happened to her real life – her sweet little world came crumbling down due to her parents’ divorce.

Divorce can be the most traumatic incident in a child’s life. And for parents, the most painful thing is to tell their child about their separation. How to tell kids about divorce when they don’t even understand what it means?

As painful as it can be, partners need to get a grip and handle the situation effectively so as not to scar the child’s life. The good thing is that you can do it with a little planning and maturity.

MomJunction briefs you on how to tell children about divorce, things to consider before telling them, and how to help your child get through this difficult phase.

Breaking The News Of Divorce To Children

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Ending a marriage can be heartbreaking, and the news of divorce can devastate the children. Once you and your partner finally decide to go ahead with the divorce, talk to your kids about it and discuss the issue with them. It can never be easy; however, here’s how you can reduce the negative impact and make it as smooth as possible:

[ Read: Negative Effects Of Divorce On Children ]

Children might think that they are the reason for their parents’ divorce. Assure them that the divorce is not their fault
  1. Choose the right time: Do not make the announcement in haste. Wait for the right time because you cannot simply walk into your children’s room and tell them that you have decided to get divorced. You do not have to tell them in the very early stages of separation but at the same time do not wait until everything is over.
  1. Spend time to clear their doubts: Take time to counsel them on the reasons for divorce and reassure them. Clear their several doubts and confusion. Block a time in your day to talk to your kids.
  1. Tell it together: It is better if the news is conveyed by both the parents. Both of you need to discuss and prepare about what you are planning to tell and how. You need to be positive in your approach instead of fearing the consequences.
  1. Tell your child it’s not her fault: The absence of one of the parents in your child’s life is unfair. Children might think that they are the reason for their parent’s’ divorce. Give them repeated assurances that the divorce is not their fault and it has got nothing to do with them.
  1. Avoid blame game: Keep aside any fights, arguments, accusations, and blames while talking to children as they can negatively affect their minds. Never blame your partner while talking to your kids. Remember that your partner is your children’s parent, and they would not want to listen to anything negative about their parents, especially in such a delicate situation.
  1. Don’t go into details: Spare your children of the messy details; it’s not necessary for them to know all of it. For example, they don’t have to know about why you are separating if one of you is involved in an affair.
  1. Keep it simple: You need to keep it simple for the kids, especially the younger ones. For them, the news may come as a shock. Get down to their level and make them understand instead of complicating or confusing them with details. Talk in a calm and neutral tone, probably on lines of, “Mommy and daddy have tried not to fight, but it’s not working, so we have decided to live in separate houses. But that will not change the way we love you; we will continue to love you no matter what.”
  1. Talk according to your child’s age: You need to talk to your children in an age-appropriate manner. Here is a quick insight into that.

a) For kids below five years, probably you don’t have to explain much as they don’t have the ability to comprehend events and expect what’s in store for them in the future. They are at an age where they don’t understand the cause and effect scenarios. They do understand the feelings but can’t express them fully.

If your kids are pre-schoolers, you need to watch out for warning signs such as anger, fear, or emotional imbalance. There could be some issues in their development such as losing their appetite or waking up several times in the night.

You need to nurture your child with love and care to provide stability. Sticking to their normal routines is especially important for toddlers and pre-schoolers because they are dependent on the parents for everything.

b) Six to eight-year-olds have the ability to think, understand, and talk about feelings. However, they still can’t understand complex events such as divorce. Hence, you need to be open to their questions and clarify their doubts and love them consistently.

c) Nine to eleven-year-olds can understand, think and talk about feelings and circumstances. They have relationships outside such as friends and mentors, so you can plan the child’s time in such a way that they are kept occupied.

d) 12 to 14-year-olds have greater ability to understand divorce. They may have friends whose parents are divorced. They may have an idea about separation and involve themselves in the discussions and ask questions. They want to be more independent and make other relationships outside family more important.

You need to keep an eye on your children on how they are behaving. Teenagers are generally moody, but you need to assess how much of it is due to divorce.

Be open in your communication so that you can connect to your teenage kid. There will be times when they want to be left alone but don’t stop talking to them just because they want to. Keep talking to them and show them that you care.

[ Read: What Is Co-Parenting ]

Regardless of the age, children have many questions that they are afraid to ask. Some questions will be immediate; others will arise over time. So, it is important to give children repeated opportunities to ask questions and express their worries. Most importantly the relationship of the child with the parents has to be strong and there has to be reduced exposure to parental conflicts.

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Children are very adaptive to situations. But it’s your prerogative to make the process easy for them. So, prepare yourself on what to tell kids about divorce and how to tell them about your situation.

Things To Do Before Telling Children About Divorce

Follow a strategy to announce your divorce so that the impact is minimal on your children:

  1. Think from your child’s perspective: Your child may not understand what you say if you talk to them like you talk to an adult. Think like a child, and imagine how you would feel as a child if your parents are separating. Try to strike that chord with your kid. Write down what you want to tell your child, and the examples you might want to use to make them understand the situation.
  1. Keep it realistic: If you and your partner have divided the responsibility of the children, then give them the details in a practical way. Tell them how the divorce is going to affect their daily routine, for example, “Mom is going to drop you at school, but I will take care of you during the weekends.”
  1. It’s not done yet: Your job is not over with you breaking the news to your child. Kids take time to absorb and digest the change in their life. Support them during this time and be prepared to handle their tantrums.
  1. Be honest: If your children see that you are unhappy about the divorce, so be it. Do not hide your feelings from them. Believe them as they are the ones who can empathize with you. Their life is also being altered just like yours.
  1. Take help when required: If you are stressed out with the situation or if your kids are finding it tough to cope, take professional help from a family counselor who can suggest ways to deal with the situation.
  1. Stick to routines: Don’t let divorce disturb your kid’s routine. Let them go to the same school, day-care, and play with the same friends, and do activities. This is important to give your child some stability during a very hard time. It will help the children understand that their life is not affected by divorce.

In spite of taking due care and considering several things while breaking the news of divorce, there can be a certain amount of impact on your child. Children might have a hard time dealing with it. How can you help your kids deal with it, rather how can you protect your child during divorce?

[ Read: Effects Of Single Parenting ]

How You Can Protect Your Child During And After Divorce

Many a time couples tend to postpone divorce fearing the negative impact it might have on their children. But, in certain cases when divorce is inevitable, here is what you can do to shield your child from the negative impact.

  1. Kids’ emotional health should be your foremost priority: Put aside your ego and legal battles and make your child’s future your priority. You need to ensure that they have a positive environment that nourishes them emotionally.
  1. Steer clear of fights with your ex: This can be challenging but not impossible. If you have decided to part ways then separate amicably with mutual respect and also in the interest of your child. Try refraining from ugly fights before your children. You will only set a bad example if you do that. Settle your issues, whether they are financial or legal, quickly.
  1. Both parents should involve in the child’s life: Whether it is a joint custody or sole custody, parents have to know about what’s happening in their kids’ lives. This can have a significant impact on the child’s growth. Being able to handle everything single-handedly is a different thing, but the fact is that kids’ need both the parents for healthy emotional development. When one of the parents abandons the child, the effect can be harmful.
  1. Empathize with your child: It’s quite natural for kids to miss a parent when they don’t get to spend enough time with them. In such a case, the parent who gets to spend more time with the child should empathize with the child instead of ignoring the stress of missing the other parent.
  1. Nurture the relationship with the other parent: If the child is happy and having fun with the other parent, so be it, nurture the relationship further. Kids need both the parents. If your ex has a new person in his/her life ensure that your child has a good relationship with that person because he/she is going to be part of your child’s life. Don’t instill negativity in your child about that person, as it will keep your ex away from your child.
  1. Give love and reassurance: Children feel insecure and vulnerable when they see their parents divorcing. The uncertainty of the future makes them anxious. Do not let that thought seep into their minds. Provide them with love and attention and reassure them that even if you have decided to move on they will always get equal love from both the parents.
  1. Give them the freedom: Let them have the freedom to see the other parent whenever they want to. You shouldn’t let your personal choices interfere with their interests. Even worse, don’t ask them whom they want to stay with. Your objective should be to provide stability and happiness to your child. You should let the kids have enough time with both the parents without any restrictions or prejudices.
  1. Let them vent out their emotions: It’s alright for your child to feel sad, cry or rebel at a time like this. You can comfort them by saying, “It’s alright to be angry, I understand how you are feeling. Can we play squash to release your anger?”
    Whenever your children want to talk, listen to them and reiterate what they are going through by saying, “I know you are very angry at us for the divorce, but you know what I can help you change your mood.” Understand their emotions, but don’t debate with them. Continue having talks till your kids adapt to the situation.
  1. Don’t talk about your ex: You will have a lot of things to say about your ex, but resist the urge to talk anything negative. It creates a wrong impression in the child’s mind about the parent and might also hurt the child. You will lose your credibility by doing that. If the other parent has stopped paying for your child’s maintenance, don’t share that information with your children. You might make them feel all the more unloved and miserable.
  1. Have relevant boundaries with your kids: Never share your love life or financial woes with your children. Don’t put them in a position where they have to comfort you. It’s for you to do that job. They need to know that you are stable and strong. You might not be able to pull through it alone, but take help from other adults in your family and friends.
  1. Let the transition between homes be smooth: When you are having your child to shift from one home to the other, do it peacefully without any baggage attached. You can plan the transition at a place away from home, at a play park for instance. Don’t expect your child to adjust overnight.
  1. Make the home environment warm: Kids might find it unusual to live in two homes. However, make it nice for them by being friendly and warm. For instance, you can keep their favorite things such as story books, toys, or chocolates ready whenever they come home. Children will understand that their interests are being taken care of. Don’t make them feel like they are here temporarily. Don’t get irritated if your child leaves stuff at the other house.
  1. Make the most of what you have: Divorce can be a major life changer leading to good and bad consequences. It all depends on how you take it. If you want to grieve over it, you can, but you need to bounce back and move on with your life. Most of all, you need to show your child how strong you are despite having obstacles in life. You need to nurture and heal yourself and make your life the priority. Your child will learn watching you.
  1. If one parent is not available: Children need the presence of both parents in their lives. But, if one of the parents is never there or even worse abandons the kids, then the onus is on the available parent to make up for the lack of the other parent by nurturing the child. But the loss of not having that parent will always remain with the child. You can help your child become emotionally strong by providing love and support.
  1. Postpone introducing your new partner to your child: Give your child some time to adapt to the new circumstances. Don’t be in a hurry to introduce your new partner to the child. Have patience and let your child get familiar and comfortable with your partner before you introduce him/her as their step-dad or step-mom.

Protecting your child from divorce is one thing, but helping your child cope with it is a different ball game.

Helping Children Cope With A Divorce:

Kids get stressful due to their parent’s divorce. You can try the below ways to help your child cope with it:

[ Read: How To Support Child After Divorce ]

1. Listen and discuss:

It is necessary to discuss the changes that may take place in their life after divorce so that they are prepared for them. Listen to their opinions and wishes and assure them that the decision of divorce is for the greater benefit of the family.

2. Help kids express their feelings:

Do not downplay their emotions. Let them express their anguish, frustration, pain, and sorrow as they also need time and support to cope with such a traumatic situation. Talk to them openly about their problems. The expression of hurt, sorrow, and anger will help them understand and accept the reality and deal with it positively.

3. Provide a stable life:

A divorce can shake the very foundation of the family and kids feel threatened about the consequences. Separation from your partner can lead to an unstable emotional and financial condition in the family. The focus of the parents, even after separation, should be to make sure that their kids are financially and emotionally stable. For that, both the partners will have to sit together and sort out a plan on how to manage the issues so that the future of the kids is not hampered in any way.

4. Manage custody with your ex:

After a divorce, parents often share the custody of the children so that the kids can spend time with both their parents without any legal issues. But sometimes, accusations, blames and misunderstandings can ruin the whole arrangement, and the kids are the ones who suffer in this. Smoothly manage the timings when one parent can meet or spend time with the kids. Do not argue with your ex in front of the children as it can make the meeting arrangements difficult to execute.

5. Keep a check on your child’s health:

Needless to say, divorce is stressful. But, don’t neglect your kid’s health in the midst of all the legal hassles and battles. Take care of their health. If they have a medical condition, ensure that you stick to the medication schedule.

Kids mean the world to parents, they go to great lengths to make them happy. And when you put your earnest efforts in helping them cope with an unpleasant event such as divorce, they are sure to come out of it. However, they might have a lot of questions, which you’ll have to patiently answer.

Queries Kids Have About Divorce

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The most likely questions children might have are:

  • What’s a divorce?
  • Why are you getting divorced?
  • Who will take care of me?
  • Where will I sleep?
  • Who will take care of mommy/ daddy?
  • Who will take care of the pet?
  • Who will drop and pick me up from school?
  • Where will I celebrate my birthday?
  • Will both of you come for the school events?
  • “I will miss mommy”, or “I will miss daddy.”

If you don’t have an answer to certain questions, be honest about it instead of brushing them aside. The more you nurture and love them, the better they adjust to the changes.

Nothing lasts forever, and so do hard times. But then changes are not always easy. Fortunately, children are resilient to change. As a parent, you need to make it easy for your children and help them adjust to the new situation and remain stable after the divorce.

[ Read: Parenting Problems And Solutions ]

Sharing a painful event can be disturbing, but it can free you from your negative emotions. If you feel like sharing your experience, please do so in the comments section below.

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