Maintaining Open Communication With Your Child During and After Divorce

Children tend to feel things very deeply. They are also keen observers of emotions. These factors mean that divorce can lead them to feel confused, anxious, and emotionally overwhelmed. The life they’ve known is changing, and that can feel scary and uncertain. Amid the shifts in their life, maintaining open, supportive communication is essential to helping them process the divorce in a healthy way.

Communicating effectively with your child will be the cornerstone of their emotional well-being and resilience as they adapt to their new normal of post-divorce life. Here’s our guide with steps you can take to foster and maintain open communication with your child during your divorce.

Establish Consistency and Routine

Your child will be uncertain about what to expect in their changed circumstances. Keep as many elements of their old life as you reasonably can. Building consistency and routine gives them a solid foundation. If you always read them a bedtime story, make it a priority to continue that routine.

You can also create new routines that intentionally prioritize communication. Perhaps every night before bed, you each list something great about your day and something you might be worried about. These can be silly, like worrying about what shoes to wear tomorrow. However, they also allow your child to voice concerns and fears. Doing this every night, or whenever it best fits in your day, creates a routine your child can rely upon, as well as an opportunity to talk.

Be Clear about Changes

When things need to change, inform your child as soon as possible. If they expect to visit their other parent this weekend, give them notice if it isn’t happening. If they are used to spending a holiday at their aunt’s house and this year, they will be with their co-parent instead, communicate that to them. Give them time to process the change and ask questions.

Encourage Open Dialogue

Your child understands that divorce is sensitive. They are likely also aware that it is a challenging emotional experience for you. As a result, they may be hesitant to bring it up for fear of hurting your feelings or making you sad. Rather than waiting for them to bring issues to you, initiate open discussions. Open the door for them to voice what’s on their mind.

Demonstrate that you are willing and eager to discuss how they feel about the divorce.

Ask age-appropriate questions about how they are feeling. If they have questions about how divorce works, explain the process. It’s okay to tell them you are meeting with your Utah divorce attorney tomorrow to discuss the end of the marriage. If they want to know how that process works, you can explain it in simple terms they can understand.

Validate Their Feelings

Your child may feel bad about feeling bad. Affirm that it is normal for them to feel a range of emotions. If they are scared, rather than telling them not to be, let them know that’s normal and you understand they are afraid. Then, offer reassurance and comfort.

Never Make Them Feel Guilty

Your child should feel comfortable saying good things about their other parent. They love that person and may hesitate to express those feelings when they know you may not share them. If they are enthusiastic about your co-parent, encourage that. If they want to speak with their other parent, don’t discourage it or react negatively. Make your home a safe space for them to love both of their parents, without feeling guilty or like they need to choose sides.

Be Honest, Within Reason

Children are deeply intuitive. They are fantastic at sniffing out lies. Resist the urge to tell comforting untruths. If you are sad, rather than putting on a smile and insisting you are fine, admit that you are feeling down. Then, offer encouragement or reassurance. You might say, “I’m sad today that things between me and your other parent didn’t work out. But I know you and I will still have a fantastic, happy life together, which makes me happy.”

If they have questions about where they will live, it’s okay to say that you and the other parent are trying to figure that out. That’s an honest answer without going into details about how you each have lawyers for custody battles and are fighting over where they spend their summers.

Tell the truth without offering more information than they can process or facts that might not be age-appropriate.

Respect Privacy and Give Space

Open communication also means allowing space not to communicate. If you ask your child how they feel and they don’t want to talk about it, that’s okay.

If you think they need help putting words to their feelings, you can try to help them with that. But if they aren’t ready to talk, let them know you understand. “I know this is a lot of change. I understand that you aren’t ready to talk right now. Know that I’m here for you when you are ready to talk or if you have any questions.” That sort of conversation respects their privacy or need for time while also letting them know you are available when they want to talk.

Don’t Forget to Talk About Other Things, Too

Divorce will likely feel like the most significant thing in your child’s life. While you should check in with them about how they feel about the process, don’t let it be all-consuming. Make space to talk about school, friends, dinosaurs, or whatever else they wish to discuss. Carve out places in the schedule to have fun or be silly together. The moments will remind them that there is still joy and happiness in their life, even as the composition of their family changes.

Seek Professional Help as Needed

Sometimes, no matter how well you try to open and maintain the line of communication between yourself and your child, it won’t be enough. They may do better or feel more free speaking to an outside party. If your child seems to be struggling or refuses to talk with you at all about the divorce, it may be time to bring in a professional. You can enlist the support of a therapist or counselor. You might also consider family therapy, which you would attend with your child and possibly with your co-parent.

Navigating your divorce will undoubtedly be challenging for your child. Patience, empathy, and love will help them work through their complex feelings. If you are committed to fostering open, respectful, supportive dialogue with your child, you can help them through this challenging time.

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