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Guiding Your Children Safely Through Your Divorce, Part 1

Divorce from a child’s perspective may seem like an overwhelming tidal wave of emotions — fear, bewilderment, anger, dread about the future. Parents who are sensitive to the stress the decision to divorce places on their vulnerable children often look for information to help them deal with their children’s distress. It is important to figure out what to say and what not say, to understand what children worry about and how to reassure them, and to develop a list of ways to help children survive divorce.

What to Say and What Not to Say When Talking to Your Children about Divorce

Deciding how, when, and what to tell your children is the first step. Avoid delaying this task even though it may be painful. It’s usually better for the children to know about the decision immediately, and before a parent moves. This way, you control how the information is presented. And it sets the tone for your child’s response. If possible, tell each of your children about the divorce together. Parents know that children will be anxious and worried about what this situation means although each child will have an individual response.

There is a reason for the divorce. Try to agree on an explanation in advance, remembering that too many details may confuse children. Some things will stay the same and others will change. Common questions children might ask are who will they live with, when will they see the other parent and family members such as grandparents, and where will they go to school.

Let your children know:

1. They didn’t cause the divorce.

2. Both of you still love and want them forever.

3. You’ll still be a family even though Mom and Dad won’t be married any longer.

4. You both will continue to take care of them.

What Don’t Children Need to Know?

Refrain from saying anything that might negatively affect your parent/child relationship, unless the other parent is a genuine threat. Be truthful with the children, but avoid disclosing issues such as money or extramarital affairs.

What Shouldn’t Parents Say?

Following is a list of destructive remarks that children don’t need to hear. If you find yourself saying words like these, stop and think about how they might affect your children. All of these remarks raise fear and anxiety.

1. If you don’t behave, I’ll send you to live with your father.

2. You’re lazy/stubborn/bad tempered, just like your mother.

3. I could get along better here by myself.

4. If you weren’t here, I could.

5. Sometimes I wish I’d been one to skip out.

6. Your father put you up to saying that.

7. Your mom doesn’t love any of us or she wouldn’t have left us.

8. You can’t trust him.

9. She was just no good.

10. If he loved you, he would send your support checks on time.

11. If your mother is five minutes late again, you’re just not going with her.

If you don’t like what I buy you, ask your father to do

12. What is your mother saying about me?

13. Now that you’re the little man/little woman of the house.

14. Someday you’ll leave me too, just like your father. Promise me that you’ll never leave.

15. You’re all I have. You’re the only person I can rely on.

16. Over my dead body!

©2016 Alpha Center for Divorce Mediation

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