Kathleen J. Smith, Attorney at Law

When and how should I tell my kids about the divorce?

You and your spouse are calling it quits. It may be your choice, his or her choice or a mutual decision. You know that eventually you will work out a settlement and move on. Your biggest concern is how it will affect your kids. When and how should you tell your children about the divorce?

This is a question plaguing numerous parents in California. Divorce affects a pretty high percentage of couples. At the end of the day, it does not matter if the divorce is amicable or horribly bitter, it will likely have a negative impact on the children. How you approach the topic with your kids can make all the difference.

What to say and when

Figuring out what to say and when can be downright difficult. It all comes down to what you feel they need to know and how much you think they can handle. Children are capable of understanding things at different levels depending on their ages. Babies and early toddlers may not realize a significant change in their life is taking place. Preschoolers and kindergartners are aware enough to see the change, but they may not understand it.

If you have young children, their biggest concerns with your divorce will likely be about themselves and about what is important in their world. Such concerns include:

  • Who will take care of them?
  • What will happen to the family pet?
  • When will I see Dad or Mom?

When talking to young children about divorce, psychologists suggest keeping the answers short and simple. They also say to be prepared to have the same conversations repeatedly until the child understands.

When children are a bit older, 6 to 11-years-old, they are capable of understanding a bit more. They may not require repeat conversations on the topic and they have the ability to share their feelings about how the divorce is affecting them much better. Still, what you say and how you say it matters. It is still wise to share just basic information and then answer more in-depth questions if your children have them and you feel it is appropriate to do so.

Finally, preteens and teens are much more capable of understanding the situation. Kids in these age groups have a strong desire for independence, but they still count on connections with their parents. Keeping the lines of communication open is key so they know they can ask questions about the situation and express their concerns rather than just being told about it. Again, only tell them what you feel comfortable telling them.

A child in distress

No matter how you talk to your child about your divorce, he or she may experience some distress over the situation. It is okay. It is natural under the circumstances. Children who struggle with divorce may:

  • Act out
  • Suffer from anxiety
  • Struggle to sleep
  • Perform poorly at school
  • Show signs of depression

Keeping a close connection with your children, keeping regular routines at home and simply being aware of suffering and seeking professional help if needed can help you and your kids get through this difficult time in your lives.

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