Divorce can be incredibly difficult for the children of a divorcing couple. Depending on their ages, they may have no idea what is happening, or they may misinterpret events within their household as they unfold. Depending on the reason for the divorce, the children’s parents may act out of character, arguments may happen, and the parents the children have known and loved may seem to hate each other. This creates a tense environment for everyone, and children can process divorce in very negative ways without appropriate intervention.
If you are planning to end your marriage in the near future and you and your spouse have children of any age, it is vital to try and help them understand what is happening as accurately as possible while sparing them the details of the personal issues that exist between you and their other parent. Every child is different. Making an effort to explain things to your children in a way they will understand is crucial for maintaining healthy relationships with them. You will need to adjust your approach based on the age and maturity level of your child.
Talking to Young Children About Divorce
Young children can be unpredictable in the way they process environmental changes. Young children, typically those under the age of 8, are most dependent on their parents. For this age group, any changes to their parental relationships are going to be felt acutely. Some young children may seem unfazed by the events unfolding around them, and kids can be more responsive to open conversation than many parents expect.
Try to explain your divorce to your younger children in a way that assures them that both of their parents still love them and will still be there for them, but their parents don’t want to live together anymore. Some kids may take this news very hard, while adaptable kids may seem unshaken. In either case, kids are likely going to have questions.
It’s a good idea to sit down with your soon-to-be ex-spouse and discuss how the two of you should approach this conversation and come up with an explanation your child will understand. Remember to keep things as simple and concrete as possible while being as reassuring as you can. Toddlers and preschoolers will have a minimal grasp over the subject at hand, so try and present information in easily digestible chunks that help them understand that neither parent is leaving them. Explain as simply as possible that they are going to have a different living situation going forward.
Handling Divorce With Older Children
While the difficulty in speaking with younger children about divorce often stems from their unpredictability, with older children, the struggle is breaking them out of their comfort zone. When they have had several years of consistent exposure to both of their parents in the same household, the idea of visiting each parent at separate houses can come as a serious shock. It’s not uncommon for older children and teenagers to act out when they cannot understand why their parents are divorcing. Again, this is another conversation for which you and your spouse must prepare accordingly.
Older children, usually those between the ages of 6 and 11, are generally able to understand things on a deeper level. Despite this, they may not fully grasp the situation at hand the same way an adult would. Children still tend to think in absolutes at this age range. You cannot expect your older children to accept a paltry excuse for upending their household and everyday life. Be prepared to provide details, explain your plans for the future, and assure your child they will still be able to have relationships with both of their parents.
Approaching Divorce Conversations With Your Teen
Teenagers can be notoriously difficult to manage when it comes to emotional subjects. It generally works in parents’ favor to give their teens the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their ability to understand why a divorce is happening. Teens can be volatile, unpredictable, and surprisingly intuitive when it comes to discussing issues like divorce. While they may have no trouble accepting the practical side of the conversation, such as custody and where they will spend their time, they may struggle with the emotional acceptance of divorce due to the length of time their parents were together. Teens are generally adaptable and resilient, and many may be more concerned with their relationships outside of the family and how the divorce will impact them.
Your teen may be more responsive to your conversation about divorce if you approach the subject as if they are another adult. This tends to generate a much more constructive conversation. Be open and honest about why you and their other parent are seeking a divorce and help them through any questions they may have. If you believe your teen is carrying any misinterpretations of the situation, be sure to address these inconsistencies as quickly and completely as possible.
Be Prepared for Backlash
Children often have difficulty processing emotional issues, and every child will process the news of their parents’ divorce differently. Some children, especially younger ones, may exhibit regressive behaviors like bedwetting and tantrums. Older children may start pushing boundaries and fighting against their typical rule structure. They may start getting bad grades or have disciplinary issues at school. Parents should strive to have a meaningful, comprehensive, and ultimately reassuring conversation about divorce with their kids to minimize the chances and severity of backlash, but some response is to be expected.
Most kids think of things in very basic, absolute terms. They may be more concerned over where they will spend their time, how they will see their friends, and where their pets will live than the breakdown of their parents’ marriage. The best thing divorcing parents can do in this situation is to try and maintain normalcy as much as possible and be responsive to their kids’ questions and worries while the divorce proceeds.
Handling child custody can be one of the most challenging parts of a divorce case, and speaking with your children and helping them prepare for what’s coming can be incredibly difficult. Hopefully, keeping these tips in mind can help you and your co-parent have the most productive conversation possible about your divorce so your kids can approach the situation with greater confidence. An experienced Topeka, KS divorce attorney can be a great resource if you want specific advice for your situation