Monday, December 8, 2008

Discussing divorce with children

A positive parenting approach focuses on communicating with your children in age-appropriate ways. Most experts agree that both parents together should speak with their children about the decision to separate or divorce. Many can do this even if one of them does not want the divorce. It is certainly OK for children to see that parents are struggling emotionally. They must also see their parents successfully manage those difficult emotions. If one or both parents prefer or feel obligated to discuss the divorce separately, be honest with your children about what is happening, but speak in neutral terms. Be sure not to assign blame to the other parent. As common-sense as this advice is, it is a very common trap for parents to fall into. In addition, let children know that they are not to blame for the divorce. Be prepared for a wide range of reactions, and make room for whatever responses they have. Do not necessarily expect their initial reaction to be permanent. Remember also, that most children ask a lot of the same questions repeatedly. This is a normal way of gaining a sense of security about their future. Try to curb your frustration and answer them lovingly and consistently.

Let children know often that both parents will always love them and that you will always be a family. The difference will be that Mom and Dad are living in separate homes. Remind your children that you will always support them in having relationships with both parents. Let them know that you are parents forever, and that they will never be abandoned. Remember that for younger children (between the ages of three and seven), short, clear explanations are best. For older kids, lengthier explanations may be appropriate, but be careful not to over-explain. Children will often perceive added details as a move toward getting them to take sides. It is important to remember here that divorce is a process, and your child's understanding will continually evolve with time. As children experience more of life, their ideas about divorce in general and their own situation in particular can change dramatically.

You should stress to your children that the separation/divorce is occurring because of differences between Mom and Dad. Always refrain from speaking badly about the other parent. To accomplish this, you must have other outlets to deal with difficult feelings regarding the other parent. You will ensure a quicker, healthier, adjustment when you are able to respect and care for the other parent despite difficult feelings. Being able to do this will also aid in your own ability to move on and be happy.

Positive Parenting, at this early stage, requires parents to balance stability and change. You should make every effort to keep stability in your child's life while recognizing that divorce is a context for change. The transitions associated with a divorce are wonderful opportunities for children to learn and accept change as a part of life. We can't always predict or choose when our children will get to learn certain life lessons. However, we can look for and embrace such opportunities when they arise.

1 comment:

Liz said...

Divorce is fraught with incredible emotion for all concerned, and too often the kids are the collateral damage. Divorce Buddy System is a godsend. It's written a longtime divorce lawyer, and learned mediation and negotiation at Harvard Law. It shows how reasonable people can help control the pain of their divorce, which would lessen the impact on the kids. "Divorce Buddy System" is the one book you'll beg your spouse to read.