How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce – Key Points

  • Different types of marital conflict will have different effects on how your children perceive and respond to your divorce
  • The tone of your divorce will have a great impact on your children
  • Focus on putting your child first, and realize that your own emotional functioning directly affects that of your child
  • Siblings can be resources and supports for one another, but they can also undermine each other’s ability to cope if you don’t monitor their behavior
  • It is essential to maintain your child’s relationship with both parents as well as other key family members

 

  • Planning your initial divorce announcement can help the conversation go more smoothly
  • It is helpful to think in advance about how you’ll answer your children’s common questions about divorce
  • Emphasize that nobody is to blame for the divorce, not either parent alone, and certainly none of the kids
  • Remember that your children crave stability and routine, and try to reassure them that you will keep things as predictable as possible
  • Make your children feel that they were, and will always be, loved and wanted
  • There are ways to change your language that will positively impact how your child views your divorce
  • No matter how your co-parent communicates with your children, you can commit to communicating the healthiest way you know how

 

  • Adult thoughts and feelings are for adults only
  • your child is not your confidante
  • Enmeshment, or the lack of boundaries between parents and their children, can harm your child both now and in later life
  • Do not use your child to transmit information openly or covertly between you and your co-parent
  • If you find yourself relying on your child for emotional support, turn to and adult friend, a support group, or a therapist instead

 

  • Unique traits and circumstances affect your child’s reaction to a divorce
  • Saddling children with many new responsibilities and roles can lead to adverse outcomes
  • Vulnerable children must have their routines kept as stable as possible
  • Siblings must be treated fairly and their relationship should be a priority

 

  • Emotions are not “good” or “bad”; they just are
  • If emotions are suppressed, they never truly recede
  • If expressed and accepted, emotions have a natural peak, and then they decrease
  • Accepting your emotions is just as important as accepting your child’s emotions
  • You can train yourself and your child to look for the positive in life, which will help both of you become happier and more resilient

 

  • Mirroring is repeating what your child has just stated, even if you don’t agree with it
  • Empathy is when you truly understand your child’s perspective
  • Validation is when you convey that your child’s feelings make sense to you
  • Mirroring, empathy, and validation can defuse many tense and difficult conversations
  • Empathy and validation can be used even in tough parenting situations like rudeness or tantrums
  • Owning your actions and apologizing for them allow your child to feel closer to you and to learn these skills for himself

 

  • Change your language: “co-parent” and “living with” versus “my ex” and “visits”
  • Badmouthing a co-parent is toxic for your child, both in terms of his own self-image and his ability to have a relationship with his other parent
  • Parental alienation must be dealt with as soon as it is perceived, so that a child can recover a relationship with his parent
  • Don’t use your kids as go-betweens or in any way make their lives more stressful because of your own inability to communicate respectfully with and about your co-parent
  • Empathy and validation can stop you from responding with negativity toward your co-parent even when your child complains about him or her
  • Even when violence, mental illness, or co-parent absence are involved, there are ways to handle these situations that can buffer your child from a negative psychological outcome
  • Even in the worst-case scenario of a co-parent abusing your child, remain calm and do not bash or insult your co-parent
  • Challenge yourself to get into a regular routine of making positive remarks about your co-parent

 

  • Toddlers and preschoolers may be very anxious and confused about divorce
  • Be honest and clear when communicating about what will happen logistically to your child
  • Be direct and empathic when dealing with any behavior issues, such as regression or tantrums
  • Reassurance and extra love are of paramount importance

 

  • Kids thrive on routines that allow them to focus on learning and having fun
  • There are many ways to initiate positive conversations with your school-age kids about divorce or any other difficult topic
  • Don’t force conversations or put your child on the spot
  • Understand and honor your child’s need to fit in with his peer group

 

  • Preteens are very focused on social concerns
  • It is normal for preteens to want to spend time away from the family, with friends and while doing other extracurricular activities
  • Now is an ideal time to teach your child positive lessons about relationships and sexuality
  • Your preteen still needs lots of love and reassurance, but not as much physical time spent together
  • Respect and empathize with your child’s concerns, even if they seem unimportant or self-involved

 

  • Teenage years are very difficult, even without the added stressor of divorce
  • Your relationship with your teenager is more important than stopping any behavior he is doing
  • Acknowledge your teenager’s needs and preferences, even if you don’t give in to them
  • It is normal for a teenager to want to spend more time with friends and significant others than with parents; don’t let your teenager get out of seeing you entirely, though
  • Teenagers can be dramatic and black-and-white in their thinking, and this can make them lash out viciously at one or both parents
  • Try to be involved without micromanaging your child
  • Owning your own mistakes and apologizing go a long way with teenagers
  • Teenagers rise to the occasion: The more you respect your teen, the more mature he will act
  • If you are truly scared for your teen, find her a therapist; family therapy can also help you improve your parent-child relationship

 

  • Your child will likely feel insecure and jealous upon meeting a parent’s new partner
  • There are ways to gently and considerably bring up the topic of you or your co-parent’s new partner
  • The way you handle initial meetings with a new partner can set the tone for his or her relationship with your kids
  • Keep in mind that your children may become newly attuned to sex, and you may have to discuss this
  • Blended family issues can be challenging, but never let your child doubt your love

 

  • Check-ins and daily special time with your children can make them feel loved and cherished even when you’re busy and stressed
  • Have fun with your child; not everything is a teachable moment
  • There are many small ways to show your love to your child
  • Be a realistic optimist about your ability to parent well through your divorce

 

Samantha Rodman – How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce

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