4 Secrets to Talking to Kids About Divorce
By Kris Reece, Counselor, Divorce Coach
Divorce is stressful for all involved. But for children it can have traumatic, life-altering consequences if not handled properly.
The problem is the two people whom the children rely upon for support, love and care are at complete odds with one another. And that’s in a mild case—in many divorces, the parents are competing for their children’s loyalty and using the kids as tools against the other.
Keeping these 4 steps in mind can help immensely in reducing the toll your divorce will have on your kids’ emotional and mental wellbeing:
- Help the children to understand that it is not their fault. This is one of the most often overlooked steps because it seems absurd to an adult, but remember a child’s mind (yes, even an older child) is more self-focused. Everything is about them, so assure them that it is not their fault or their doing and there is nothing they need to or can do to change the situation.
- DO NOT blame the other spouse. The number of times that I hear parents think they are doing a good thing by “subtly” telling the child that daddy found someone else to love, or didn’t want to be with us anymore, is astounding. This may make you feel better, but the damage that is done on the child is immeasurable. Let them know that it’s OK and expected that they love each parent just the same as before.
- Resist the urge to make yourself look like the good one. If your soon-to-be-ex-spouse is truly a heel, then trust me, it will reveal itself at some point. You don’t have to be the bad-mouther. Bad-mouthers NEVER win in the end.
- Help them to understand the changes to come. Tell them that things may change a little or a lot, and assure them that you will all work together to navigate these changes gracefully. Children do not like change and they do not feel safe when too much change is taking place. Children DO NOT have the capacity to figure this out. THEY JUST WANT TO BE LOVED! Continue to be a parent, not a best friend. They need your strength as a mature adult right now, perhaps more than they ever have.
Children from tumultuous divorces tend to suffer from lower self-esteem. They also tend to have trouble with intimate relationships later in life—this comes from not knowing whom to trust. All this can be thwarted if you and your ex refrain from bashing the other in any way.
And keep in mind that, no matter how tumultuous and upsetting things may feel now, you will all come through this. Divorce is not a death sentence!