Divorce is a difficult situation for adults, let alone children and teenagers. Parents who are separating might be experiencing their own grief, sadness and anxiety. As the adult, it is important that you are able to be the secure base for your child or teenager during this time. Children are intuitive and can sense the mood of their parents. To hold a safe space for your child, make sure that you are calm.
Key points to remember while speaking to your child about divorce:
1. Unconditional Love: It is important that children understand that none of this is their fault. A child might side with the parent who they feel is hurting or the same sex parent. No matter who the child lives with, or spends time with, it is important for them to know that you still love them and that they will not be punished for this.
2. Do not involve the children in the conflict. The children should not know about the financial pressures or constraints of the divorce. This is one more stress they do not need, they should not be involved in adult situations.
3. Expect to answer a lot of questions. Your child or teenager might be hurt and confused. Be prepared to answer the same questions over and over again as they try to process the situation. Do your best to remain patient through this process.
4. Don’t interrogate your children. Don’t ask them about the other parent or what the other parent is doing. Do not make your children take sides. When you say something negative about the other parent, the child unconsciously feels as if you feel the same way about them as they are genetically half of the other parent.
5. Listen to your child’s emotions. Acknowledge your child’s emotions patiently. You might say something like, “I know this is scary and you are sad. It’s ok to cry and talk about it. Your mum and dad will love you no matter what. Even though you don’t live with both of us anymore, we are always your mum and dad.”
6. Be honest and sincere. Children do not need to know the adult matters, but it is best, to be honest about the living arrangements. Children understand more than adults often give them credit for, and lying upsets and angers them. It is best not to introduce a new partner to your child or teenager for at least six months.
Dr Monica Borschel is a US-trained Clinical Psychologist who specialises in loss and attachment. Get in touch with Dr Borschel: firstname.lastname@example.org
Private or skype sessions available