Age Appropriate Tips for Talking to Children about Divorce
Dealing with a divorce is never easy. But it gets trickier when you have a family and need to talk to the children about what is happening between mom and dad.
How you approach the subject and what you say to your kids depends on how old they are. Preschoolers will handle the news very differently to a teenager. Which is why you have to try and find an age appropriate way to tell them you are getting divorced.
Here is a look at how to adapt your approach and talk about divorce in the right way. This includes understanding their emotional capacity and ways to help them cope with the situation.
Doing the right thing
You might have filed an online divorce for example, and kept things secret from your children in the beginning. But there will come a point where you have to sit down and tell your children that things are going to be changing.
You are a responsible and loving parent. This will mean that you will stress about having to tell the kids about your divorce. You will also want to impart the news in a thoughtful and considerate way.
If you have pre-school children, you will want to find a way of providing them with some essential details about the changes that are going to be happening, but in a way that they won’t find too overwhelming. At that age, they are unlikely to know what divorce actually means and their biggest immediate worry could be who is going to look after them in the future.
You obviously want to do the right thing and tell your children exactly what is happening and how it affects their future, although you need to do in the right way and use language and terms that they will comprehend.
The early years
If you are getting divorced while your child is still a baby or toddler, they will clearly have no capacity to understand such a complex issue. Having said that, your child is perfectly capable of picking up on your emotional state and getting a clue that something is wrong.
This can be unsettling for you, especially when you are trying to contend with everything else surrounding the divorce. Try to keep as calm as possible, as your baby should pick up on this vibe, and it will also help you to cope better with the situation.
By the time your child has reached the age of four, they will have started to develop some emotional independence. But they will still have a limited ability to comprehend much beyond what is happening right now.
You also need to keep things pretty simple when explaining the situation to a pre-schooler. Be prepared to witness some signs of distress, including fear, anger and a desire to cling to you more than usual. This is only natural and to be expected.
Most preschool children won’t have the cognitive capacity to truly appreciate the consequences of divorce. That is why the best approach is often to keep everything in the present when talking to them about mommy and daddy splitting up.
Give them your love and support and help them to cope with the emotional trauma they might be experiencing. Aim to answer any questions they have with simple short answers at this point.
Children aged between 6 and 11 years
There is a big leap in your child’s level of understanding of divorce between the ages of six and eleven.
If you have a child who is aged between 6 & 8 they will still have a limited understanding of a subject as complex as divorce. Try to keep your chat with them on the topic as informal and simple as possible.
It can often help to read books with them that are written specifically to give them the information they need in a language they can understand.
Talking to school-aged children
When your kids are around 9 or older, you can expect some more complex emotional responses to the news that you are getting divorced.
An older child will be capable of displaying a wide range of responses to a divorce situation.
They may respond to the news by showing you a high level of anxiety and sadness, or you might even witness displays of anger and fear. Some children can also feel a sense of responsibility that they have somehow contributed to the divorce.
If you have school-aged children your priority is to reassure them and help them understand that they are not to blame. Do what you can to continue providing a good level of stability in their life, despite the challenging circumstances.
Be ready to talk to them about your divorce whenever they raise the subject. This approach is often much more effective than trying to impose the conversation on them at a time when they don’t feel like talking about it.
It is always best to try and find the right way to talk to your children about divorce so that you can all get through this together.
Jade Gallagher thought her world was ending when her husband announced he wanted a divorce 18 months ago. But today she’s in a better place than ever and ready to share her support, and tips with others who are going through divorce.
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