Almost all divorces lead to an emotionally turbulent time not just for the spouses involved, but for their children and other loved ones. If you have children who are under the age of 18, it's likely that your top priority is their emotional well-being during this transition period.
While divorce can affect children negatively, when managed well by parents, it can also be a positive learning experience and a lesson in emotional resilience. Life is not perfect, and children face this reality too.
Telling Your Children About the Divorce
Psychology Today suggests taking into account the reactions of children when broaching this sensitive topic. Every child is bound to react differently; if fighting has been rampant in the home, a child may express a sense of relief. However, if the news appears to come out of nowhere, the child in question is bound to feel dismay at the changing family dynamic. Accordingly, the child's reaction to the news should dictate the tenor of the ensuing conversation.
Parents are also bound to experience significant sadness and anger at the dissolution of their marriage. Despite these feelings, maintaining a mature and rational demeanor when speaking with children is of paramount importance. This entails not blaming the other parent for family issues, while also assuming responsibility for what has occurred. That way children are less likely to place blame on themselves.
Also, parents should not attempt to shield younger or more sensitive children from bad news. Instead, parents are encouraged to inform the whole family at the same time. This will prevent one child from feeling that the need to serve as gate keeper for the information, or to protect the other children from ill feelings. Here are some additional tips for talking to your children about divorce.
1. Create time and space for the conversation
Many parents make the mistake of having a conversation about divorce over a rushed meal or when in the car. When a conversation is important, it should be uninterrupted and conducted in a peaceful environment. Children should not feel rushed, and they should be given the space to express themselves without judgment.
2. Listen more than you speak
Your teenage children may be saying things that you do not want to hear, but it is important that you allow them to speak and that you truly listen before responding. Avoiding interruption can go a long way toward preventing a conversation from escalating into an argument.
3. Be neutral
It's usually best to have the conversation along with the other parent so that you can present a united front. However, if you are having the conversation without the other parent present, you may be tempted to put the blame on them or talk about them in a negative light. You should fight all urges to do this. Your children have two parents, and they will identify with both. Criticism of the other parent can be interpreted as a criticism of them.
4. Address uncertainty
It's likely that you will not be able to provide all the answers regarding what will happen after divorce, and that is OK. You should be transparent to your teenagers about what is certain and what is not.
How do Children React to Divorce at Different Ages?
According to Parents.com, the age of the child will help determine the understanding level and life impacts of the divorce.
18 Months and Younger
Young ones do not have an understanding of what is happening, but they do sense conflict. They may react with emotional outbursts, excess clinging and develop more slowly.
18 Months to 3 Years
They may feel like they caused the breakup because the world revolves around them. Some impacts may include potty training resistance, trouble sleeping or a return to baby-like behavior.
3 Years to 6 Years
Children at this age have a hard time with separating parents. As a result, they may have unkind thoughts, unspoken anger and frequent nightmares.
6 to 11 Years
Younger school-aged children may have feelings of loss and will often try to get the parents back together. Older ones may place blame on one parent for the divorce. Some impacts on these children may include depression, fighting, anxiety or stress-caused health symptoms.
According to Very Well Health, kids of any age tend to struggle the most during the first couple years after a divorce. While they get better, very few get back to how they were before the divorce. Some of the ways parents can help ease long-term psychological effects include:
- Co-parenting peacefully
- Monitoring the activities of adolescents
- Using consistent rules and discipline
- Teaching coping skills
- Empowering the child
- Ensuring the child feels secure and safe
Children Dealing with Guilt and Self-Blame
One common issue that children deal with during their parents' divorce is guilt and self-blame. If you are worried that your child might blame themselves for the breakdown of the marriage, the following are some things you can do to prevent such a reaction.
1. Be truthful
Sometimes, parents avoid telling children the truth about the cause of a divorce for fear that it will lead them to feel sad or upset. However, avoiding the truth can often be more harmful. If you do not tell your child why you and their other parent are getting divorced, they will likely "fill in the blanks" by assuming that their behavior was the cause.
However, do not overshare or provide information that is unnecessary or that places blame on either parent.
2. Be affirmative with your love for your child
Some parents are more expressive with their love for their children than others. During difficult times, it's important that you tell your child that you love them affirmatively. This will help them know that they did nothing wrong.
3. Give each child quality time with you
Divorces are stressful and time-consuming. You may, therefore, find that you have less time to spend with your children. Try to put some time aside, even if it's just 15 minutes, to spend quality time with each of your children. Make sure that they know that they can ask you anything that is worrying or concerning them.
If you are worried about how your children are reacting to divorce, consider therapy or counseling. Make sure that you are also organized in your overall approach to divorce so that you can remain in control at all times.
How the School can Help Your Kids during Divorce
The first three months of the year tend to be the most popular times for couples to break up, so many children will soon go to one parent's home after school. It's frustrating for divorced parents that they cannot comfort their children during some of the most crucial parts of the day during this difficult period. To make sure that your kid is adjusting properly, you should consider looking into different opportunities offered by the child's school to help them cope with the separation.
1. Your child's teachers
Teachers have the best opportunity to witness a child's development in person. They can tell if the separation is taking a toll on your kid based on the child's interactions, level of attentiveness and even test scores. Divorces can have a negative impact on a child's performance in school, so teachers will know quickly that something is wrong when they see the grade drop. Try to pick a teacher you know had a close relationship with your child prior to the divorce or someone who teaches a class that can best examine the child's social and academic performances.
2. Supportive groups
According to Psychology Today, many schools have supportive programs designed to help children of divorce. These are great to remind your kid that they aren't the only one with separated parents and that they can still continue even if their mom and dad aren't together. If there aren't any programs specifically for divorce, consider signing them up for sessions with a school psychologist or counselor to help them heal and for you to get a better understanding of what they are going through.
3. After school programs
Your kid might need something to get their mind off the separation given how stressful school already is. After school programs such as sports or clubs offer a variety of ways to get your child interested in something new while meeting new potential friends in the process. Schools typically advertise what they have to offer near the beginning of the year, so now is a great time to see what your kid could get involved in the late winter or early spring. It also allows for more time for both parents to pick their kids up after work in case there are any issues.
Even if you no longer have a spouse, raising your kid is still a team effort. Many Colorado schools have ways to help children recover from the separation in one way or another, so you should consider researching what your kid's school has to offer to make the recovery process easier on everyone.
If you are going through a divorce in Colorado, it is important that you understand the law in full so that you can get the outcome you deserve. Call for a free consultation with an attorney of Ciancio Ciancio Brown, PC at (303) 395-4773.