A divorce can be stressful on its own but children and divorce can make the whole thing a lot more intense. It doesn’t have to be though. Click here.
Divorce is often one of the most difficult trials of a person’s life. The situation is compounded by the fact that your spouse and children must also go through the same ordeal, and there isn’t much anyone can do to change how hard the process is.
Children and divorce don’t go well together, but there are ways that you can handle the situation in a manner that is best for your kids. Breaking the news to your kids in a way that’s age-appropriate is a big component of a healthy transition.
We’re going to take a look at methods you can use when telling your children about your divorce in the best way, hopefully making the situation as easy for them as it can be.
Let’s get started:
Children and Divorce
The idea that a single decision could have a lifelong impact on your child’s emotional wellbeing is a tough thing to stomach. You might be relieved to know, though, that a divorce isn’t just one day or week that, when rough, can leave emotional scars.
It’s more of a process with ups and downs, not a single event. If we can keep our wits about us, a divorce can be a positive thing in the long-haul. Life in a home with unhappy parents might not be the best option for your child after all.
Divorce can provide space and the opportunity for new lifestyles to emerge. Healthier households with happier parents should be better emotional landscapes to grow up in. That said, the process can be very damaging to your children if you don’t handle it with care.
Not only does a poorly-handled divorce traumatize kids in some instances, but the way parents behave in the months and weeks afterward can also really set the tone for the child’s emotional well-being.
First things first, though, you have to break the news somehow.
Age Range and Understanding
Age-specific discussion about divorce with children is the first step. Naturally, you know your child and how well they currently understand the world.
It’s important to remember that a highly stressful and emotional experience can momentarily strip children of their charisma and personality, leaving them at the foundation of their emotional state. As emotional maturity progresses, kids reliably focus on the same things at the same ages.
That’s why, regardless of how tough your little person is, it’s wise to cast a wide emotional net that covers the areas that the research suggests are important to your child at their age.
Ages 0 to 2
Babies and toddlers don’t have the emotional or intellectual capacity to understand what’s happening in a divorce. They do, however, know that they have to be cared for.
A chaotic environment and irregularity can make your little one feel endangered. If there is a lot of yelling or abrupt change, they might start to regress emotionally.
Your primary goal with children of this age should be to establish your custody agreement early and start implementing it with strict regularity. Young children need consistency and an uninterrupted amount of care.
Regardless of how nasty the divorce is getting, give yourself and your ex the hard rule of consistency and care with the child. That’s the most important thing when they’re at such a vulnerable age.
Ages 2 to 5
At these ages, children still exist in an egocentric world. In other words, it’s hard for them to realize that everything isn’t about them.
This makes it difficult to find a way to assure your child that they were not the reason for your divorce. If you leave your husband, for example, your child might think that you left her instead of her dad.
If you can, do your very best to keep a strict routine in your child’s daily schedule. There should also be ample time for the child to see both parents if that’s an option.
When it comes to discussing the divorce, though, try and make it very clear without involving the emotional stress that you and your ex are feeling. Children can easily pick up on strife between their parents and internalize it. At this age, they blame themselves in a lot of instances.
Blame shouldn’t make its way into the discussion if possible. Try and approach the situation as a natural change where no one is at fault, even though it might be hard to get used to for a little while.
Also, keep in mind that this age range is the time when children start to identify socially. Their first few groups are important to their social development, no matter if they’re single relationships or group gatherings.
Make sure that the divorce interrupts your child’s first relationships as little as possible.
Ages 5 to 8
At this point, the child is starting to find more identity outside of the immediate family. They are still very dependent upon you for physical, material, and emotional support, but friendships and peers are emerging as important factors.
This shift is also indicative of the child’s ability to realize that other people are important, making their lives less egocentric. Each child develops out of this stage at a different rate, but it could mean that they’re a little more understanding of what is happening.
They will undoubtedly have a tough time accepting the change, but you have the opportunity to describe the shift in a way that’s palatable to them. Be sure to emphasize that the shift is due to factors between you and your spouse and that your child isn’t at fault in any way.
Also, focus on consistency and dependency as you would with younger children. Because your child is more dependent on others now, though, you can consult with other adults in their life who might be able to offer a space for discussion.
Teachers, older relatives, and other individuals might be good sources for your child to turn to, especially if they’re having feelings that they don’t feel comfortable talking with you about just yet.
Ages 8 to 12
The “tween” years are some of the most complex for children. Their identities are emerging and their dependence on friends and peers starts to eclipse the emotional support of parents.
It’s easier to complete the discussion without a child at this age believing that it’s their fault that you’re getting divorced. Handle the topic with care and make sure you’re clear about some of the factors that caused the split. Ensure that they know it wasn’t their fault.
They might be embarrassed by the situation. Such a tough ordeal might make them defensive and embarrassed at what their peers might think.
That said, it’s important that they have social outlets to vent the stress of the divorce too. Respect your child’s wishes to keep information about your divorce from their friends and parents that they know.
If they’re embarrassed about the divorce, you can ask them if it’s alright to tell the parents of their friends, who can then describe divorce to your child’s peers. That way, the social group will have a better chance of helping your child through a divorce.
Ages 12 to 18
Children in early to late adolescence will respond to the news in less predictable ways. Personalities start to branch out uniquely, and the individual will respond to difficult information in different ways.
What stands out in the teen years, though, is that the need for independence shadows the emotional pain of the divorce. In other words, they’ll put on a strong face and deal with the situation in ways that are loosely related to the situation.
There will always be exceptions to that rule. Some children are more straightforward with their emotions, but it is generally tough to crack through to get to the root of emotions related to parents separating.
What you can do in your initial conversation is to be as clear as possible about the reasons why and what will happen in the weeks to come. You should also make it abundantly clear that you’re willing to talk and discuss the situation.
Give the option for counseling or other resources that they can engage with on their own terms. Regardless of how they appear to be dealing with the divorce, they will be having a difficult time. If there’s no visible difficulty, that tends to be a result of their response to stress.
After your discussion, be sure to keep a distanced eye on how they appear to be doing. Look for issues sprouting up in other areas of life and consider how new problems might be related to the difficulty of the divorce.
Be available and open about your feelings and consistently offer support to them if they need it. It might not be received, but it’s important for a teenager to know that they’re understood and cared for, even if they don’t express any appreciation.
Need Assistance with Your Divorce?
Handling your child and divorce effectively is very important. It can be tough, though, especially when you’re dealing with legal troubles and strife. We’re here to help smooth the process over.
Contact us for legal information pertaining to divorce and options for representation. A great time on your side can make the whole process a lot easier for you and your family.