How To Tell Children About A Divorce
When facing the reality of a divorce in Michigan, one of the most difficult tasks is informing those that should know. Of course, for those with children, the most difficult person to break the news to is your child.
Children can often internalize divorce, blaming themselves. Sometimes they will act out, as young children have difficulty processing emotional stress. I wanted to take a small break from the typical legal information I write about, and focus on something not often addressed by Michigan divorce attorneys: how to effectively and compassionately explain the divorce to children, how to assist children in coping with the divorce, and some general tips on single parenting.
How To Tell A Child About An Imminent Divorce
There is no simple method to telling a child news that will most assuredly cause them pain. No parent wants to hurt their child. However, there are better ways to deal with this difficult scenario, at least according to most child psychologists.
One of the most important things for a child is for both parents to be present when the news is delivered. By both parents being present, the child’s initial questions about causes and wild speculation. Also, expressions of anger or shame should be avoided, despite the circumstances surrounding the divorce.
Keep the focus on the child, and be sure to tailor the conversation to their age. No need to add confusion to an already tumultuous situation. The messaging should be simple: You loved each other and were happy, but now you would be happier apart. However, you will both be there to love and support the child, no matter what.
That last message is key. It is important to know that children are perceptive. If they see that your love has ended, they may think that your love for them is also temporary. Be sure that both parents are clear that this is not the case.
Emphasize that the child is in no way to blame for this. As mentioned above, children tend to blame themselves in some way for divorce. You may find yourself having this discussion frequently throughout, and even after, the divorce process.
Providing information is a tricky situation. On the one hand, you should give the child information so they understand upcoming changes in their life (custody, moving, etc). However, overloading them is not beneficial, and can be frightening. Keeping the focus away from the causes of your divorce is a good rule of thumb. Obviously, a child in their teens can handle more information than a child in grade school.
Be tuned in to your child’s reactions to the information given. Not all children will respond the same way. Crying, anger, inquisitiveness and withdrawal are some common reactions. For the child that is clearly upset, immediate reassurance is necessary. Remind them that you’re divorcing one another, not the child. For the inquisitive child, following the above recommendation about information should be helpful. Keep the focus on the upcoming changes, not the causes of your divorce. For the child that withdraws, reassure them that when they want to talk, you’ll be there for them.
Tips For Helping Children Cope
In the wake of telling children about a divorce, there will be some processing that will occur, until they can achieve a level of acceptance. Helping your child get to this point is one of the most important tasks you may have as a parent.
First off, encourage questions and conversation. A child will often have questions, and should never be made to feel that their questions are ‘stupid’. Likewise, when they express emotions, be sure to validate them. No matter how irrational it may seem, a child needs reassurance in a situation like this.
Be sure to observe behavior. If you see drastic changes, it is important to help the child identify their feelings and verbalize them. Most acting out is a result of a child not having the emotional intelligence to express their feelings. Be a good, active listener, and be honest with your child.
After the divorce has been finalized, and you are a single parent, your child may need more support than they previously did. Some general tips will help you guide your child through this part of the process.
Do not bad-mouth your ex-spouse to your child, or around your child. While your feelings are valid, they can make a child feel more conflicted and stuck in the middle. Let your child discover their proper relationship with you and your ex.
Protect and encourage the positive feelings your child has toward their other parent. If your child comes home and says “I had a lot of fun with Dad” or “Mommy reads the best bedtime stories”, encourage this. Your child should always feel that their positive attachment to a parent is valid and healthy (abusive situations aside).
Protect the parenting schedule on both sides. When your child wants to call your ex to talk, even if it is your “time” be sure to encourage this. Ask positive questions when making an exchange about their time with their other parent. Do not violate, or encourage your child to push violating, your court ordered agreement.
Now that you are living apart, fighting in front of the children should be much easier to avoid, and should be under all circumstances. Re-traumatizing your child halts the acceptance process.
Be consistent. Of course, in your own parenting, you should remain consistent to give your child a semblance of order.. The regularity will be comforting after a huge change. If possible, collaborate with your child’s other parent to maintain consistency in both homes. This will be less confusing for the child.
Recognize when a professional may be of assistance. Occasionally, the process can be too traumatic for the child, and it would be helpful and healthy to bring in an expert to encourage growth and acceptance. Do not make the child feel shame for needing additional help. Participate in sessions as much as prescribed, and keep the child’s other parent informed and encourage their participation as well (again, abuse cases notwithstanding).
In my experience, it is always the goal of parents to mitigate the effects a divorce has on their children. However, it can be confusing to know exactly what is best for the child. At The Mitten Law Firm, we’re here to support you in any way possible. Call us today for a free consultation if you’ve been considering a divorce.
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