Although you should be careful not to offer children reassurances that will fill their head with a rosy picture that isn’t likely to come about, there are several reassurances that you should try to offer in your discussions. This will help provide some comfort against the most common fears and anxieties children have. So try to work in as many of these reassurances and discussion points as is possible:
Reassure kids that they do matter
Children should be reassured that their feelings do matter, and that both you and your former spouse will take their feelings and desires into consideration when making important decisions that affect them. This doesn’t mean that they’ll always get their way, mind you, but that you are considering their interests as well. One of the biggest fears children face during a divorce is the idea of being helpless when something so important as their family or their time and connection with a parent is at stake. Remember: feelings of control, even if illusionary or minor in nature are a basic staple of mental health. Reassuring them that they do have a say and that you’ll do your best to accommodate their wishes and desires will help limit the feelings of helplessness that often accompany divorce.
Offer comfort through a sense of control
You can aid in this process by trying to find ways to offer them choices, no matter how small. Even allowing kids to make seemingly minor decisions can help them feel some sense of control over their environment amidst these chaotic times. For example, you might let them choose a special outing with each parent every week, ask for their input or advice when it comes to everyday decisions, let them pick the color or some decorations for their room in a new house, etc. As you go about this process, always be on the lookout for small choices that can help them feel like they matter and have a say about things.
Reassure children that parental love is permanent
The first and primary concern for most kids is that the divorce will mean the loss of one of their parents, or just as importantly, lost time with them. This means less love and attention, the primary item of importance for children everywhere. Nor are these fears illogical. Sadly, a great many children do essentially have their non-custodial parent drop out of their life.
Provided both parents are still there and are likely to remain involved, children should be reassured that their parents will love them forever, regardless of what happens. You should also be prepared to offer some specifics about how you’ll stay involved and how you’ll try to find the same amount of time for them.
If there is some question in this regard, it’s best to go with a less certain but more sincere approach such as, “whether near or far, both of us will always love you and will always have a place in your life, no matter what changes.” If there is some question about whether a former spouse will remain in their child’s life to any degree, you should stick to what you can control, telling them that you love them and will never stop loving them.
Tell them you’ll consider their comforting needs
Children often develop specialized attachments to specific parents in particular areas. They may crave a certain parent when they’re sick, when they feel sad, when they want to play, etc. As such, the loss of the “proper” parent at the particular times they need them most is an often unspoken fear. You can alleviate this by reassuring them you’ll both remain responsive to their concerns and considerations and will do all you can to be there at the times when they need you most, either in person or over the phone.
Reassure them that you won’t interfere with their contact with the other parent
In this day and age, mom and dad are just a phone call away. Let them know that they’ll be free to talk to the other parent whenever they wish; once again, assuming that both parents are available. Reassure them that you’re not going to interfere with their relationship and that you’re not going to come between their desires to interact with the other parent. State that neither of you will try to make them pick sides or make them feel guilty about wanting the other parent. It’s not a contest for their love.
Reassure kids that divorce is not a rejection of them
Be sure to explain that the divorce is occurring because of problems between you and your spouse, and that neither parent is rejecting them. Your feelings about them have not changed. You still love them as much as ever. Tell them directly that you can separate the hostility you may feel towards a spouse from your feelings about them.
Offer light at the end of the tunnel
Although you shouldn’t pretend that this is a good thing, you might state that although things will be difficult in the short-term, in the long run there might even be certain things that improve as a result of this. You might make new friends, you might find that your parents are in a better mood, there may be less arguing and fighting.