A child’s post-divorce adjustment is dependent upon the child’s quality of relationship with each parent, the intensity and duration of parental conflict, and the level of attention the parents pay to the needs of the children during and after the dissolution. In a high-conflict or an amicable dissolution, the following emotional reactions are common: denial, abandonment, preoccupation with information, anger and hostility, depression, immaturity/hypermaturity, preoccupation with reconciliation, blame/guilt, and acting out.
However, if parents work together and actually talk to their children as a unified and cohesive unit, children are better prepared to cope with these different emotions and will often communicate with parents regarding the dissolution’s effects on them; rather than acting out or harboring feelings of guilt.
When it comes to telling children about divorce, many parents freeze up. Make the conversation a little easier on both you and your children by preparing significantly before you sit down to talk. If you can anticipate tough questions, deal with your own anxieties ahead of time, and plan carefully what you’ll be telling them, you will be better equipped to help your children handle the news.
Difficult as it may be to do, try to strike an empathetic tone and address the most important points right up front. Your kids are entitled to know why you are getting a divorce, but long-winded reasons may only confuse them. Pick something simple and honest, like “We can’t get along anymore.” You may need to remind your children that while sometimes parents and kids don’t always get along, parents and their children don’t stop loving each other or get divorced from each other. Anticipate your kids’ questions about changes in their lives by acknowledging that some things will be different now, and other things won’t. Let them know that together you can deal with each detail as you go.
In your explanation, it is important to be honest with your children, but avoid blaming the other parent. Remember, this is the father or mother of your children and that will never change. No matter what problems or emotional pain the other parent has caused you, blaming them for the divorce and telling your children that you blame them is only going to further the child’s negative feelings toward that parent and ultimately can harm their ability to form relationships with others later in life.
Furthermore, it is important to be mindful of the ages of your children. In general, younger children need less detail and will do better with a simple explanation, while older kids may need more information. Tell kids about new living arrangements, school, activities, and anything else that will affect their daily routine. However, do not emphasize a dramatic change. Ensure them that both parents will work together in making the transition a workable one that the children can handle. Children can often adapt quite easily if they can prepare for these changes with the help of both parents working together to help them through the process rather than against one another.