In this article, you’ll find answers to questions like:
1. How do I explain our divorce?
2. What questions should I expect?
3. What if my kids struggle?
It’s natural to feel daunted about breaking the news to your kids about your divorce. For children younger than 13, it means using words they can understand. Below, our local family counselors provide guidance on how you can guide your little ones through this big change.
1. HOW DO I EXPLAIN OUR DIVORCE?
Children of all ages benefit from open communication and reassurances from parents who are divorcing. Younger children, though, have a better chance of understanding if you use relatable language.
The top priority is to ensure your children know they aren’t the cause of your separation, says Michelle Rodriguez, interim supervisor for the Positive Parenting Program, known as Triple P, at the Center for Family Services of Palm Beach County.
“Children think it’s their fault because parents tend to argue about them in front of them. Parents should not criticize or put each other down in front of the children, but instead stress that the divorce is not [the children’s] fault and that the love you have for them is not going to change,” she says.
To explain the reason for your divorce, Rodriguez suggests framing it as adults taking a break: “Mommy and Daddy need to take a time-out from each other.”
You also can draw parallels to your children’s relationships because they can relate to not being friends with someone anymore, says Randy Heller, a licensed marriage/family therapist and adjunct professor at Nova Southeastern University.
“So often, kids have experiences that mimic divorce, where they have changed friends because their interests or hobbies have changed,” she says. “Parents can remind younger children that sometimes you find other people to be friends with, and it’s not a bad thing.”
2. WHAT QUESTIONS SHOULD I EXPECT?
“Elementary school-aged children typically want to know, ‘How is this going to affect my life? How is it going to change things? When will I see both of you? Where will I live? Where will you live? What about the holidays?’,” Heller says.
Even though you may feel guilty or responsible for adding stress to their lives, you should still continue consistency, rules and expectations.
“So often, parents try to overcompensate for the upheaval divorce causes, so they want to be more lenient and accommodating,” Heller says. But younger children thrive on reassurance and structure.
3. WHAT IF MY KIDS STRUGGLE?
Both counselors stress using reassuring, loving language and remaining a supportive family, even if the child begins to act out or regress.
You may notice regression in your younger children, such as toilet-training issues, thumb-sucking or bed-wetting. Children with separation anxiety may need more details, such as when they’ll see each parent again and the visitation schedule.
“Most importantly, I advise parents to compartmentalize their emotional needs and that of their children’s,” Heller says. “If you or your kids are struggling, get help, learn how to make the transitions, and learn how to know what your children need.”
• Michelle Rodriguez, Positive Parenting Program interim supervisor, Center for Family Services of Palm Beach County
• Randy Heller, licensed marriage/family therapist; adjunct professor, Nova Southeastern University; board member, Florida Academy of Collaborative Professionals; member, Collaborative Family Law Institute