Divorce is a difficult topic no matter the age of your children. It tears families apart, changes every aspect of your life and your children’s lives, and can leave deep and lasting scars.
If your children are young, it can be especially challenging to help them understand divorce and all its ramifications, partly because it’s a touchy topic, but mostly because children are too young to understand it and often unable or unwilling to share their true feelings.
Compounding the difficulty is the fact that parents need time to grieve the end of their marriage, and this occurs while still trying to parent competently. It can be a nearly impossible task. But there are a few rules of the road when it comes to helping your young child understand and withstand a divorce that alters every part of their young lives.
Our children look to us for guidance on how to act and how to respond to information. If you are anxious, stressed, or freaking out, then your child will likely react in a similar manner. Take the time that you need to digest the topic, figure out how to broach it in a way that your children will understand, and figure out the best time of the day for you and your children to have a conversation.
If you are going to have this conversation, be open, be honest, and be sincere. There is no way to sugarcoat it. You and your spouse are splitting up, and the family unit, as you’ve known it, will be no more. Don’t try to spin the information or give false hope to your kids. This is what it is and it’s how things will be moving forward.
Remind Them That They're Not Alone
Your child might feel horribly isolated at a time like this. Reassure them that there are many families – probably some that are in your social circle – that have survived divorce. Also, let them know that you and your spouse are still their parents, you love them, and want to give them every opportunity to get through this crisis. There are professionals who can provide counseling or even a trusted family member or friend who can be a sounding board for their thoughts and feelings.
Try to Keep Your Children’s Lives as Stable as Possible
If it can be worked out, try to allow your children to remain in the family home where their beds, toys, and favorite items are. If you must move, try to make the move as seamless as possible. This might take a lot of work because there will be one parent out of the house, but if the parents work together to provide two stable, loving environments, the situation will be much smoother.
Even though you may have strong negative feelings towards your spouse, do your utmost to keep those thoughts away from your children’s ears. They are impressionable and will form opinions based on your words and actions. Again, this won’t be easy, but it’s vital to keep your children out of the middle of an acrimonious situation.
Be Open to Difficult Questions
Finally, remind your children that no question is off limits. They should feel free to ask you anything about the divorce and you should be prepared to answer their concerns. They will talk about it with their friends and classmates and there will be things said that might upset or worry them. They need to feel safe coming to you for answers and guidance during such a tumultuous period.