Talking to Your Kids about Separation & Divorce
Tips from Our Lawyers at Moshtael Family Law
Adults are better equipped to deal with the difficult circumstances, the complex emotions, the stress, and all the legal technicalities involved in a separation. Children, on the other hand, do not understand the “how” and “why” of divorce. It is essential to be open and honest with your kids about your separation and break the news to them as gently as possible.
All children will react differently, depending on their age, level of maturity, temperament, and personal relationship with their parents. While adults grapple with the legal intricacies of separation like property issues, finances, and custody or visitation schedules, children are more concerned with how the separation of their parents is going to affect their daily life, both directly and indirectly.
Understanding and appreciating the emotional state, behavioral changes, and reactions of children in various age groups can help parents provide kids with a smoother transition into a new chapter in their lives.
No matter how old your kids are, they understand that there is a problem in the family and that their household is not going to be the same again. Younger kids tend to focus on worrying about who will take care of them or where their pets will go.
Kids who are older and have a basic understanding of what it means when their parents separate; stress about who they will live with, changing schools, losing their friends or moving places.
Feeling sad, angry, worried, or withdrawn are common reactions that are noticed in children of different ages. The most serious issue in circumstances of divorce is that children feel they are somehow responsible for their parents’ separation. These feelings of guilt can further cause emotional trauma for children.
Babies & Toddlers
The youngest of children have no comprehension of what separation entails. The primary concern for kids and parents is childcare as the kids are completely dependent on their guardians.
Preschoolers do have a slight understanding of the parent-children bond.
Their concerns are self-centered so they might show signs of distress when told the news. Their anxiety is expressed through clinginess, irritability, fear, or whining. Kids may show signs of learning difficulties in school or interrupted sleep.
6 to 8-Year-Old Children
These kids have a slightly better understanding of parents living together or separately. They can think about others but still, primarily worry about their own situation after the divorce.
9 to 11-Year-Old Kids
The former age group and children in this one, can in part, understand the situation and express how they feel about it. It is easy for these children to blame themselves for the divorce.
Learning issues, social withdrawal, or social dependence are possible outcomes of the separation period for children. Some even try to bring their parents together, failing which they feel even guiltier.
12 to 15-Year-Olds
Kids at this age are able to understand what divorce is and how it is going to affect their lives. They are old enough to ask questions and take part in family discussions. They require honest answers to their questions.
Teenagers seek independence and try to form bonds outside the house. If parents don’t ensure the support that children need in this situation, kids can suffer from anxiety, depression, abandonment issues, or get into bad company. Teenagers can also manage to blame one or either parent for the breakdown of their family.
Separation is a tough period for everyone and parents must understand that children suffer the most due to their vulnerable and dependent nature. It is thus essential that parents take the utmost care to ensure stability in their kids’ lives, even if the two parents start living separately.
Parents must lookout for signs of distress, health issues, cognitive or learning disabilities, social withdrawal, loss of appetite, or dependence on outside support in children. Communication is crucial when dealing with kids.
They need to know clearly what changes their parents’ divorce is going to bring in their daily life, right from the place of residence and school to friends and co-curricular activities.
Parents need to be honest with children and explain to them that the separation is a mutual, adult decision, and not caused by them. Kids crave parental attention so when parents are dealing with their own emotions and stress, they cannot allow their distress to project on to the kids in the form of scolding or indifference.
Nurturing the Parent-Child Bond
Every child needs the love and support of both parents. During or after parents’ separation, the child may feel that the bond with his/her parents is withering. No matter what happens between the parents, the children should feel loved and taken care of.
It is extremely important that parents not blame each other or teach children negative things about the other parent. This must be communicated to other family members also.
Even if you are separating for reasons such as infidelity, the kid must not have a bad image or lose respect for his parents. This creates hostility among kids towards one or either parent.
Arguments, fights, and discussions about the divorce must also not take place in front of children.
Even if the divorce is not a mutual decision, parents can sit together and decide what they will tell their children and how they can ensure that their child’s life will be least affected by their actions.
Continuing that Special Bond
When children hear that their parents are not fighting but are on amicable terms with each other, it is easier for them to accept that although they will be living under different roofs, they will still give them the same love and attention that they received earlier.
Be it in their daily routine or the bond with parents, children need more regularity and consistency. Being patient and cordial with your children about your impending divorce is the first step you can take when you choose to part ways with your spouse.
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