Thousands of kids every year are affected by divorce. With divorce rates at nearly 50% in the United States, unfortunately, it’s a reality that many children will have to face. While it can be overwhelming to think about guiding a child through a divorce and what they will experience, there are a few things parents can do to make this transition more comfortable for their kids.
Break the news as soon as you make a decision
What you say should depend on the child’s age and maturity, and it may be appropriate to have separate conversations if you have multiple children and their ages vary greatly. It’s important to include your children in the news very early on so they don’t find out from another adult accidentally slipping and sharing the news.
Reassure your children that mom and dad love them very much, are deciding to live separately, and this decision was not their fault.
Keep the drama away from the kids
Avoid discussing any conflict, annoyances, anger, or guilt with your children. They should not be who you vent to during this challenging time, no matter how mature they are or how well they seem to be taking the news.
There is no winning in a divorce. Whether you’re choosing to go the mediation route or collaborative divorce, it can be a very challenging time for a family to navigate, and the children should be as far removed from the decision process and the conflict it presents.
Stay involved in daily activities
Depending on their age, some children will rebel against this news. Others will withdraw, some will become angry and act out at school or other activities, others will not appear to be very affected by it (yet).
Because it’s unclear which path your child or children will take, staying involved in their everyday lives is vital. If one parent decides to move out, try to compromise and arrange a schedule where that parent is still at the house in the morning, or home for dinner at night.
Keeping things as “normal” as possible is a healthy way to guide kids through a big change. It will also reassure your children that both parents love them, are here for them, and are still involved as they’ve always been.
Encourage openness and answer questions
Some kids may be more curious than anything about your divorce, so be patient and accepting of their questions and curiosities. There may be other kids at school whose parents have gotten divorced, so your child may have questions of their own.
Create a supportive, open environment that allows your kids to express themselves, how they’re feeling, what they’re scared or worried about, and begin to work towards finding solutions together. Validating their feelings will make them feel safe, secure, and hopeful.
Be respectful and kind
Divorces are stressful, frustrating, exhausting, and can often be messy. Leave all that negativity out of your home, and don’t speak poorly of your ex in front of your children.
Taking the high road will always be the right move when kids are involved, because they are the ones most impacted by this change, and they’re looking to their parents for guidance on how to behave in situations of conflict. Be a good example of respectfulness, especially towards their mom or dad.
While facing a divorce may be one of the most challenging things you go through, it will change your child’s world forever. This can be a daunting thought for parents, but there are many resources available to help with the transition. Stay involved, stay close to them, and be as open as you can.