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In many cases, the way a divorce plays out determines the magnitude in which it can impact the kids. The good news is that you can reduce its impact by talking to your children about the divorce. Most parents prefer to act as a shield; trying to protect their children from the pain associated with going through a divorce.
According to Kevin D. Arnold, Ph.D., A.B.P.P, (Director of the Center for Cognitive and Behavioral Therapy of Greater Columbus and a Clinical Faculty member in the Dept. of Psychiatry at OSU) in his article titled ‘Mom and Dad Have Something to Tell You: Six Tips for Talking to Kids About Divorce’, he believes that parents who are divorcing can take advantage of the opportunity as a teaching opportunity for their children about how to handle emotions and pain more effectively. When breaking the news of a divorce to the kids, parents should expect a variety of different reactions from their children based on several factors: the child’s stage of development, the parents’ ability to focus on the child’s needs and feelings, the child’s temperament, as well as both the child’s and the parents’ psychosocial functioning during the pre and post separation, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The Healthiest Approach to Take When Talking to Your Children About a Divorce
Research indicates that 25% of parents talk to their children about their divorce and the ways it will change the family. Sitting down and explaining the details of how the divorce is going to affect the household as your children now know it is considered the best approach for minimizing the impact the divorce can have on the kids.
The remaining 75% of divorcees typically spend less than 10 minutes when speaking to their children about the divorce, and normally do not have a plan. This not only shows lack of concern for the child, but it also contributes to feelings of abandonment and rejection.
When speaking with your child about a divorce, consider the most loving approach that you can take based upon your child’s age and emotional well-being. The place and time that you speak to your kids, along with the tone of voice and words used play a part in how your message will be received, and will affect a child.
Share the Responsibility
It is much better for parents to talk to their children about the divorce together, if at all possible. This way the parents appear to be working together as a team. It also allows for parents to place inferences on the fact that they are concerned about the children and have their best interests at heart. Having stated this, it’s important for parents to realize that they should have this talk during a time when they can be civil and eliminate any signs of anger, or the likelihood of one or both losing their temper. The time should be chosen carefully so children are not exposed to negative feelings, or a disruptive atmosphere. Speaking to the children together provides them with a solid launching pad as they enter a life completely unknown. The parents are responsible for making the transition as smooth as possible. Talking to the kids together is a good starting point to that journey.
Choose the Best Place to Talk to Your Children
When speaking to your children about the divorce, make sure you talk to them in a quiet place that has little or no distractions. If home is considered a comfortable place for your children and there’s not a lot of non-turmoil in the home, it may be a good place to speak to your children. If not, find a suitable place that’s mutually agreeable and comfortable for the child.
Plan the Best Time to Talk to Your Children
Parents should talk to their children at least 2-3 weeks before the divorce takes place. They should also refrain from exposing the divorce before speaking with them.
To that end, parents should speak to their children at the beginning of the weekend; giving them the time they need to process, and to discuss further should they have any questions, fears or concerns. Having the conversation with the kids without being available to address their feelings may be hurtful to a child, and evoke feelings of abandonment, rejection and loneliness. If parents are present a few days after the news is broken, children have a chance to experience some reassurance and comfort from parents days after the conversation.
Alert Responsible Parties in the Children’s Lives
Alerting other responsible parties in the children’s lives can be an important factor in the transition during a divorce. Responsible parties such as teachers, coaches, youth pastors, counselors, etc. may be interested should there be a sudden change in a child’s behavior.
Of course, parents should also stress that the information is not to be used for probing, gossiping or for other ill-intended purposes; just to be aware of what’s going on in the child’s life, and to watch if it impacts their performance or behavior.
Choose Your Words Carefully
Choose words carefully when speaking about sensitive issues. Especially when dealing with children who may already be emotionally unstable, highly sensitive, or have other psychological or emotional challenges. When speaking to children about the divorce, it’s important to be aware of the emotional state of the child before beginning to speak. If necessary, speak with a divorce counselor or a licensed therapist to assist with how to best speak with the children.
What to Say
When speaking to the children, always reassure them that the divorce is not their fault.
Let them know that both parents have tried to work things out, and have determined that it’s best for the family to divorce. This is important, because sometimes children attempt to control the outcome of the situation through their behavior.
What Not to Say
Parents should never say things to children that make them feel like they must choose between the parents. They should be encouraged to communicate with love and receive love and care from both parents.
Parents should also avoid talking about the details of the divorce with the children, as children can come to their own conclusions about what these details mean, and this can have an unwelcomed emotional impact on them.
Children should be aware of the custody arrangements such as who will live with whom, and when, as it will have an impact on their living arrangements. It should not, however, be shared in a way that makes children feel like they are a burden, or are adding extra stress and turmoil to an already difficult situation.
What Not to Do
Parents should avoid telling the oldest child first while sheltering the younger children, as the older child will have to bear the burden of keeping secrets.
Parents should also avoid having shouting matches or mentioning any new love interest to the children too soon.
Basically, parents should find the right time and the right words ahead of time before approaching their children about the divorce. This strategy will be helpful to both the parents and the children.