A lot can ride on how well you talk children through the divorce process. Their life is being turned upside down, their place in the world as they know it is being challenged, and it’s your job to help them understand why this is happening and what it all means. Failing to do so can have far-reaching consequences. As Wallerstein, Lewis & Blakeslee (2000, p. 46) warn: “If these discussions are done poorly or don’t happen at all, the child is left to figure everything out on his own. Being left in the dark with a problem that is too big to understand increases a child’s anxiety profoundly.” They bleakly add that, “In my many years of working with divorced families, I’m sorry to say that few parents have such conversations with their children.” (ibid, p. 47)
Why Talking To Kids About Divorce Is So Important
It’s important for parents and other caretakers to know what kids will ask, what they are likely to worry about, and how to console them. Although there are no magic words that will erase the pain of divorce, failing to talk with kids about what is going on has a detrimental effect on their ability to handle the divorce in several ways:
- Talking over the divorce can impact how much stress they’ll feel. Although divorce is stressful on its own, a lack of information about what is happening and why increases a child’s stress levels dramatically.
- Effective communication will impact their sense of control during this time of chaos. Feelings of control and predictability over the environment are a staple of mental health.
- The quality of your discussions with them will influence the amount of anger they feel towards you and their attitude towards their parents in general.
- What you say to them can have an effect on the amount of behavioral problems or rebellion you experience.
- Talking by itself is therapeutic. It allows kids to work through their negative emotions and find healthier ways to cope with what is going on.
- The way you talk to children about divorce will decide the long-term messages they carry with them into the future. Although divorce causes most of its problems through negative changes in the environment (instability, lost parental time and attention, parental pathology, financial loss, ongoing stress, etc.), there are also many social messages created by divorce that can influence their livelihood in the future. Messages such as . . .
- What it means to be a family
- The circumstances under which they were brought into this world
- Attitudes toward marriage
- Ideas about how much they are loved and wanted
- Beliefs about what type of people their parents are
- What it means to be in a relationship
- The nature of commitment
- And many others too numerous to mention here.
Divorce will leave its imprint on every child, and shaping these messages for the better begins with the way you talk to them about divorce. The next section begins this process, talking about how you should break the news and tell your children you’re getting divorced.
Additional information on how to talk to kids about divorce: