How you speak to your child about your divorce will significantly impact how well they adjust to the changes in their life. It can be challenging to be mindful of how you communicate with your child when you are in the middle of your own coping and adjustment, but it is worth the effort. Here are some tips to help you communicate with your child about your divorce:
Present a United Front
Disagreements may be one of the things that led you to divorce. However, it is essential to show your child that you and your Ex are united as co-parents. That means setting disagreements aside in front of your child. When you feel the heat rising between you and your Ex, excuse yourselves to continue the conversation away from your child or table the discussion for later.
Try to show your child that you and your Ex are working together. That means not undermining your co-parent by allowing something they already forbade and not speaking negatively about your Ex’s choices.
Even though the family unit has dissolved, showing your child that you and your co-parent can come together for their benefit will help ease some of their fears. It will also prevent them from feeling caught between two people they love.
Break the News Together
Ideally, parents will break the news of the divorce together. Making the announcement together sets the tone for the future. Coming together for the conversation shows your child that you are willing to work together to love and care for them even though your marriage is ending.
This show of unity can also prevent your child from feeling like they have to take sides. When you announce the divorce together, it gives the impression it is a mutual decision. Even if you didn’t want the divorce, stand with your co-parent and inform your child what is happening together. By presenting a united front as you share your decision to divorce, you avoid creating two sides to the story. That means your child doesn’t feel torn between parents or unsure whose version is correct.
When you break the news that you are divorcing, your child will likely have questions. And that questioning will continue through the divorce process and beyond. While you need to keep answers age-appropriate and shield your child from your negative feelings about their other parent, try to answer them openly and honestly.
Divorce is new to them. It will likely bring up feelings of fear and uncertainty. You can calm those anxieties by helping them understand what their life will look like during and after the transition.
Children tend to be quite intuitive and can sense lies or evasion. Answer honestly. It’s okay to tell them you don’t know something or admit you have some unease, too. But keep your tone optimistic.
If you don’t provide information or answer their questions, your child will likely fill in the blanks on their own, often with wild speculation or implausible outcomes. To prevent your child from creating upsetting, scary scenarios, answer their questions about the divorce and post-divorce life.
Don’t Use Your Children as Messengers
“Tell your dad that your school fees are due.” “Please remind your mom to send home your camp supplies when she drops you off.” These requests may seem harmless, but they put your child in the uncomfortable position of being the messenger between co-parents.
When you need to speak with your Ex, go directly to them. This direct approach helps avoid misunderstandings. It shields your child from any negative feelings arising from the message. If Dad is annoyed that Mom is asking–again–about school fees when he told her he’d pay them by the end of the month, his negative reaction to that message may feel like it is directed at the messenger–his child–rather than at Mom. Avoid that by going directly to the source instead of using your child as an intermediary.
If you have a problem with your co-parent, go straight to them or to your custody attorney, if necessary. Don’t make your child part of that communication chain.
Encourage Your Child to Express Their Feelings
Let your child know it is okay to feel whatever they feel about the divorce. Acknowledge that their feelings may change day-to-day or over time. Most importantly, let them know they can approach you with their emotions and not worry about your reaction. You want to create an environment where your child isn’t afraid to be open with you.
This openness provides a safe outlet for them and helps strengthen your relationship. It shows them that they can come to you with anything, and you are open to hearing and supporting them.
Remember that it may take some children a while to open up or know how to express their feelings. Don’t push them to speak before they are ready. Convey that you are available, check in regularly about feelings, and let them speak up when they feel ready.
Divorce ushers in a tremendous amount of change in everyone’s lives. It can feel overwhelming. Much of this divorce-related change is unavoidable, but try to provide consistency where you can. This stability will help your child feel more secure.
If both parents typically attend soccer games, try to continue that after the divorce. If you have to move to a new home, bring their furniture with them. Prioritize opportunities for them to spend time with friends from the old neighborhood, even if that means a long drive. Whatever you can do to make elements of their new life look like their old life will help ease the transition. This consistency communicates that even though their family composition has changed, they don’t have to give up all the parts of their life they loved.
You can also provide consistency through rules and habits. Keep bedtime the same, and talk with your co-parent to see if they will enforce the same rule. If you attended church every Sunday before the divorce, continue the habit, hopefully at the same location.
All these things provide a sense of familiarity and a recognizable foundation on which your child can construct their new life.
Focus on Your Child
Communicating thoughtfully with your child during the divorce process can reassure them and guide them through a healthy transition. Leave the arguing to your divorce lawyer and focus on helping your child process the changes. When interacting with your child, remembering these tips can protect them from many difficult feelings that some children experience during a divorce.