Divorce is never easy, but it becomes even more difficult when children are involved. Understanding how to communicate about divorce with your children can be a critical step in maintaining healthy parent-child relationships throughout, and after, the divorce.
Talking to Children About Divorce
Two key factors play into how your children process and understand the divorce:
- Their age and developmental maturity. Children of different ages will process a divorce in different ways.
- The circumstances of the divorce. Whether or not a divorce is amicable can change how divorce affects children. The parents' habits, their relationship with one another, and their relationships with the children all affect the divorce.
Tips for Talking with Children of Different Ages
Depending on the age of your child, you'll want to approach the topic of divorce differently. Here are some best practices:
- If your child is aged 0-5, they won't understand the divorce fully. It will probably take a significant amount of time to adjust, so try having consistent, short conversations about the divorce. Your child may react with fear, anger, or general emotional instability. Children this age tend to perceive that the non-custodial parent abandoned them, so try and make sure each parent spends regular time with the children (if they can and it is safe to do so) to reduce feelings of abandonment.
- If your child is aged 6-11, they may see things in black and white. Children this age may want to bring their parents back together, assume fault for the divorce or see things in a simplified manner. Establish a stable parenting plan and encourage them to talk about their feelings with each parent.
- If your child is aged 12-14, they may be frustrated or angry with both parents. Children this age have a lot going on (transitioning into high school, puberty, etc.), and divorce is often an unwanted, added stressor. While they may act with anger towards their parents, they still crave a parent-child relationship, so treat them with kindness and talk with them about their feelings often.
- If your child is aged 14 or older, they will understand the divorce more. However, both parents should still encourage their child to talk about feelings regularly. If one parent took actions (such as committing child abuse or adultery) and the child wants to talk about it, now is the time to take an honest look at the situation and communicate openly with your child.
Parents need to be aware that their behavior towards one another and their child, as well as how the child perceives it, can dramatically affect the divorce.
Parents shouldn't disparage one another to their child, as doing so can make the child feel caught between the parents and establish a worse parent-child relationship between all parties. If the child has a negative perception of one parent (for example, they find that parent committing infidelity), that will also play into how the child processes the divorce.
Visiting a family therapist may also be worth it for your family. A skilled family counselor can help parents and children deal with divorce and transition into a post-divorce life more effectively, which can be a life-saver during complicated divorces.
Our team at Hembree Bell Law Firm, PLLC, will work with you to help you navigate your divorce more successfully. To learn more, contact us online or give us a call at (512) 768-9737.