When separating, parents need to inform them and explain how it will affect the child. They often have no opportunity to ask questions. Research by Dunn et al, 2001 Smart & Neale, 2000, and Smart 2002 indicated that when parents were asked about talking to children about the separation/divorce, 44% of time mother told kids, 23% of time no one talked to them; 17% of the time, parents discussed separation together; 45% of the time, parents only used one or two statements and only 5% of the times were children fully informed & allowed to ask questions. Adults and kids cope better if they have appropriate information to prepare based on research. Research noted that it is preferable to hear directly from parents. This will reduce child’s anxiety. If parents are uncomfortable having discussion with children, review with counselor to develop game plan of what is appropriate and what is not. 75% of the time, only one parent is initiating separation but other parent may hesitantly support. Kids want to tell parents how they are both important and also want to be included in discussions of living arrangements. Parents should ask for input from kids but they are not asked to decide. Kids commonly want equal time with both parents. Majority of children do not feel that they are the reason for the divorce however, children that already have psychiatric issues and low self-esteem do feel that they are to blame. Pre-school children feel that they are the center of the universe so they often feel that they caused the divorce/separation. If parents mostly fight about one or more of the children, then the child may feel guilty and responsible. Recommended book called, “What Should We Tell the Children?: A Parent’s Guide for Talking About Separation and Divorce” by American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers with assistance by Joan B. Kelly, PhD and Mary Kay Kisthardt, J.D., L.L.M. For younger children ages 2-8, refer to the Sesame Workshop Little Children, Big Challenges: Divorce tool.
Considerations when speaking to your children about your separation/divorce:
1. Both parents should review together what they will share with children prior to the meeting with the children.
2. If parents cannot agree on what to discuss, refer to a counselor to help set-up a plan to review.
3. Both parents should be present when reviewing with the children if possible.
4. Be honest, do not allow children to think this is just a break if you have no intentions of getting back together.
5. Parents should not blame, be disrespectful, nor share adult conflicts with children such as infidelity.
6. Explain what divorce means including that divorce happens when two adults can no longer live together and is only between the adults. Kids do not divorce from their parents.
7. Convey that even if mom and dad do not love each other anymore that mom and dad both love each child.
8. Convey to the children that it is not their fault that they are separating/divorcing.
9. Discuss how the separation/divorce will impact the child’s life such as living arrangements, plan for time spent with each parent, how to communicate with each parent when with the other, and how extra-curricular activities will be impacted if at all. If not, establish with child that their after-school routine will not change.