How to tell children about divorce
After reaching the difficult decision to divorce, it is necessary to be open and honest with children. Discussions need to vary based on the age and maturity of the children. In the process, children need to be reassured that they are loved, will continue to see each of the parents and are not to blame.
Child-related issues in divorce will revolve around custody, visitation and child support. But children should not be brought into these issues. The one exception might be for an older child and the court or a guardian ad litem may ask about custody and visitation preferences.
What you need to share and when to bring up the topic
While children have the right to know what is going on, it is often best to wait until you have made some final decisions and can provide a plan and answers to questions. It is best if you and your spouse can talk to your children together.
Use understandable, age-appropriate language. Your child may not understand the word divorce, so you will likely need to describe the separation process and effects. The age of the child will affect how much is understood and certain behaviors can be common:
- Babies: Infants can feel tension between parents, but will not understand the reason. Clingy or irritable behavior and the tendency to regress may appear when tension continues.
- Toddlers: Main bonds are with parents, which makes change difficult to accept. Toddlers may think they caused the breakup. They may seek attention, have trouble sleeping at night or fear being alone.
- Three – six years old: Preschoolers may feel they have no power over the outcome. Similar to toddlers they may feel responsible, which can lead them to keep their feelings bottled up or suffer nightmares.
- Six – 11 years old: School-age kids may fear losing one of their parents. They may try to “rescue” their parent’s marriage or have the tendency to blame one parent.
While these behaviors are normal, there are things that you can do to ease your children through the divorce process.
Easing the transition
Developing a consistent routine helps children of all ages. Regular visitation with the noncustodial parent will reassure a child that he or she will see both parents. Kids thrive in a predictable environment especially during times of turmoil.
Providing young children with favorite toys and extra attention and physical comfort will ease the transition. Handling the divorce in an open and positive manner when possible can help preschoolers who will often reflect the parent’s attitudes.
Allow children to express their feelings and voice their opinions. Having a counselor or another adult (a grandparent or teacher) available to talk with your child often makes a positive difference.
When a relationship breaks down, seek the counsel of a family law attorney. Developing a child custody and visitation schedule that is in the best interests of your children requires compromise. A knowledgeable attorney can help you reach a suitable parenting agreement.