Telling Your Kids You Are Divorcing – How to do it by Age
When parents need to tell their kids about their imminent divorce, it is never an easy task to share the news with children at any age. Their lives will be changed, after all, from sharing time spent between Mom and Dad to splitting time between two homes.
Adults and kids have different perspectives of divorce; parents navigate through the more intricate, logistical, emotional complexities of the situation, while kids simply want to make sure that they are still loved.
To help children better understand what divorce means for them, it’s important for parents to understand how to talk children through it developmentally by age.
How to Best Talk to Toddlers About Divorce
While infants have not yet developed the ability to understand a complex event, such as divorce, preschoolers are beginning to establish a sense of independence.
That said, parents of toddlers will still need to have a simple explanation of divorce, and this will most likely involve several short conversations. Kids at this age (through age 5) will want answers to basic questions that directly affect them, like where they will live, who will be watching over them, and how often they will see each parent. Because they are still sifting through the overall idea of divorce and the cause and effect, children need to be told that this is not their fault; it was an adult decision.
Preschoolers are still very much dependent on Mom and Dad. During this time and after the divorce discussion, it is imperative to provide them with consistent, nurturing care in a stable environment, which means as few disruptions to regular routines as possible. Watch for any interruptions in their sleep through the night, as well as signs of extra anxiety, irritability, or clinginess.
How to Best Talk to Kids Ages 6 to 12 About Divorce
Kindergartners through 12-year-old kids are the most difficult age for children to handle the separation or divorce of their parents.
This is because, at this age, they are a little more capable of thinking and talking about feelings. However, they are also still limited in understanding the gray areas within a complex situation like divorce – instead, they tend to see things in black and white. On top of that, kids in this age bracket have more relationships outside the home with friends and school, so that complicates things when planning daily routines. Consistency remains a key factor.
What is the best way to break the news of divorce to elementary school children? If at all possible, parents should try to tell the kids together to reassure them that there is still a degree of unity within the family. Keep the conversation non-accusatory, clear, simple, and short. It may help to write down a few talking points ahead of time to guide the way through this difficult time. Bottom line: they need to know that they are allowed to feel emotions, and nothing, even divorce, has changed the loving parental-child relationship that is shared.
How to Best Talk to Teens About Divorce
Teenagers are roaring with moody, emotional ups and downs, so expect this to also come into play when divorce is discussed.
Because they have a greater understanding of the issues related to divorce and the ability to discuss and ask questions, it is crucial to constantly keep an open line of communication with teens instead of emotions being repressed and leading to them withdrawing from any relationship with the parent.
The baseline would be to assess how the teen’s behavior was before the separation and to keep an eye on whether or not that has changed after the divorce. Teens may act like they do not want to connect, but they still crave attention from their parents. Anger at one or both parents is common, and relationships outside the family are at an all-time high for teens. Just keep talking, keep answering questions, and keep providing regular mealtimes, bedtimes, and support to maintain a strong relationship inside the home.
How Kids Over 18 Can Best Adjust After News of a Divorce
They may technically be adults, but even if they are 18 years old or over, kids still need the same reassurances from their parents as younger children and may still struggle through the same coping mechanisms.
Here are a few things to consider for a healthier adjustment period:
- Separate any anger or anxieties that are harbored over the ex-spouse from the needs and demands of an older child.
- Do not assume that they can independently carry the full load of the news of this divorce on their own.
- Find ways to spend quality time with them, one-on-one.
More Tips on Talking to Kids of All Ages About Divorce
According to research done by psychotherapist Liza Finlay, there are three factors that help when talking to kids of any age about divorce and the adjustment period after that:
- Making sure there is a strong relationship with both parents if possible. This requires each parent to respect, not undermine, their child’s relationship with the other parent.
- Maintaining good parenting. This is a difficult time for all involved, but it is critical to keep grown-up challenges separate from parent-child interactions. It may help to seek support from a counselor or therapist, or to join a divorced parent class.
- Suppressing conflict. Post-divorce conflict should be contained and not involve the children during pickup or drop-off times or through any other communication between parents.
How to Move Forward from Divorce with Kids of all Ages
Divorce is an ongoing conversation. It will come and go with more questions from children at any age, changes in the family dynamic, such as moving out of the family home, and more. No matter what, it is vital for parents to make sure kids know that the conversation is always available to them at their own pace for their peace of mind.
For parents who are in the thick of a divorce and need guidance through this challenging time for complicated issues like child support, alimony, dividing assets, and more, reach out to family law and divorce attorney Betsy A. Fischer.