Divorce is nearly always a traumatic event. When children are involved, the dissolution of a marriage is especially difficult. How you explain to your child about the impending divorce is critical in their ability to adjust to the dramatic change about to occur in their lives. While there is no easy way to talk about divorcing, there is a mature way to handle the changes about to take place.
How to Explain Divorce to a Child
Both parents should be together to explain to their child that a divorce is very likely or that you have filed for a divorce. The ages of your children will determine what terms you use when discussing a divorce and how much you tell them. For children aged four and under, the word “divorce” is confusing. You would do best to simply explain that mommy and daddy will be living in different places. As much as they can understand, tell them when they will be visiting or staying overnight with each parent. No matter what age your child is, do not explain that the two of you have stopped loving each other. Children will fear that either or both of you will stop loving them.
Older children will understand what divorce is and realize that their lives will change in many ways. Their security is being removed and they will have feelings of great sadness, fear, and even anger. Allow your children to express their feelings as long as they are respectful in doing so. Explain that each of you are responsible for the decision to divorce. Children will usually blame someone for these changes in their life. It is best if kids understand that both parents have decided to end the marriage. Be honest. “Your mother/father and I have come to realize that we do not have a romantic love for each other which is necessary for a marriage to work.” Children will understand the difference between romantic love and the kind of love people have for friends and family.
What to say to your child when you are separating
Answer questions your children have about separating and the changes that will take place in their life. Tell them where they will live, how often they will see the non-custodial parent, and about changes that will affect their after-school activities. Explain any differences in your current financial situation. Assure them that you will work to keep any changes as painless as possible. If there will be new people in their life, such as boyfriends and girlfriends or step-parents, discuss it with your children and listen to their feelings and concerns. For the best way for children to deal with divorce, it is recommended that new relationships wait until children have settled into a new routine and had a chance to be counselled if they have difficulties in adjusting.
Whatever personal reasons for your divorce, do not share information that will embarrass your child or information she is too young to deal with. Do not ask your children to choose sides. Your children love both of you. Remember, your child is not divorcing his parent. Respect each other and your children will continue to respect each of you. Children do not need to see their parents disrespecting each other. This teaches them to be disrespectful to adults in their life, such as teachers at school. However difficult this might be for you toward your spouse, doing so will greatly reduce the chances of your children disobeying you after the divorce.
Remember, your child had every right to expect his parents to remain married throughout his lifetime. Your child will be sad, angry, confused, frightened, and/or withdrawn. Do not tell your child how he should feel about the divorce. Listen to your child’s concerns and answer questions about the divorce without putting down the other parent. A divorce can be a better situation for your child if you handle her fears and uncertainty with honesty and respect. If your child needs counselling, seek professional help, talk to your pastor, youth minister, or family member about regular sessions for your child to vent anger and receive assurance that he can survive the changes in his life.