The attorneys of Haas Tharrington, P.A. know that separation and divorce are extremely painful and confusing times for both adults in the relationship. However, we also know that when parents are separating or divorcing, their pain and confusion is compounded by concerns about who, what, when, where and how to tell their children. Below are some tips for parents on having that important conversation and for addressing the psychological effects of divorce on children:
Steps to take for a positive conversation
- Before you tell your kids that you have decided to end your relationship, discuss with your partner/spouse what you are going to say and how you are going to say it.
- The optimum time to tell the kids is when you have made the final decision to separate and you have a time line as to what is going to happen and when.
- Explain as much as possible about the agreed-upon upcoming day-to-day arrangements. Give the children details such as where Mommy and Daddy will each be living, who the children will be living with, when visits with each parent will occur and when the children will have telephone or other access to each parent. Be careful, though. Do not tell your children about any arrangements that have not been agreed to by both parents. Children form attachments to and expectations about what you tell them will happen. Do not set them up to be disappointed.
- Most child psychologists agree that it is best for both of you to tell the children together. This lets them know that the decision was mutual, that it was made maturely and rationally, that it is permanent and that both parents love them and are committed to things remaining as cordial and stable as possible. This can be the beginning of limiting the psychological effects of divorce on your children. Warning: If you do not believe that you and your spouse are at a place where you can tell the children together without conflict, then choose which of you will tell the children alone. But try to come to an agreement as to what the informing parent is going to say.
- Although the children will have an immediate emotional response to the news, do not be surprised if they also ask practical questions such as, “Will Daddy still take me to soccer practice?” or “Can I take my toys when I visit at Mommy’s house?” Be prepared to answer these questions as best you can.
Contact us at 919-783-9669 today to discover how we can help with your concerns about the psychological effects of divorce on children.
- Be honest. When telling the kids your reasons for separation or divorce, be as truthful and as appropriate for the age and maturity of your child as possible. For younger children, keep it simple. Tell them what is happening and what is happening to them. For teenagers, know that they may ask “why?” or try to cast blame on one parent or the other. Tell them the truth, as appropriate, but do not fill them in on every graphic adult detail. The effect of the divorce on children can be influenced by the information you decide to, and not to, reveal.
- Answer your children’s questions, but also listen for their hidden questions. Understand that older children may ask if they are the cause of the separation or focus on who is to blame. Younger children often assume that they are responsible without asking, and feel guilty and afraid that one or both parents are angry at them or will abandon them.
- Do not blame either parent or talk negatively about the other parent in the presence or hearing of your children. Children do not like to think of either parent in a negative way, and this will only lead your children to think bad things about you or cause them to feel unsafe when they are with the other parent.
- Understand that your children will hear much more than the words you are saying. They will listen to the tone of your voice, notice your body language and react to non-verbal signs of conflict and tension.
- All children need to be reassured often that they are loved and that they will continue to be loved. They need the security of being told and being shown that divorce is an adult problem, that it will be handled by adults, and that neither parent’s love for the children has changed or will change in the future.
- Consult experts or material written by experts such as therapists, counselors or child psychologists on the best way to talk to your kids about divorce. Remember that it is likely to be a conversation they will remember for a very long time.
Please also refer to the following What Kids Need to Know About Divorce for information about divorce that was designed to be read and understood by children.