TALKING TO YOUR CHILD ABOUT SEPARATION/ DIVORCE
Telling your children that you’re separating can be the thing you most dread. You may fear your children’s reactions. It may also make your separation all the more real for you.
Every child and every family are different, so it’s important to take time to think about your children and your particular family situation before you do anything.
Your separation is a life-changing event for your children. Explaining to your children what’s happening and why is unlikely ever to be easy. You can though find ways to do it which will help your children feel supported and that their needs are being met.
Tips for breaking the news
Your children’s needs will depend upon their age and development, but you may find the following advice for breaking the news of your separation helpful:
It can help to remain in familiar surroundings after you’ve told your children about your separation, and for both parents to be around afterwards.
If one parent is leaving, tell the children when this will be, where they’ll be going, when they’ll see them again and how they can be contacted when they’re not around.
Talking to younger children
Telling your children you’re separating is just the first of many conversations you’re likely to have with them about the changes ahead. It’s very important your children can talk to you about how they’re coping and feeling as the days, months and even years progress.
This can feel daunting. Hearing how your children feel can be upsetting. This is especially so when you’re dealing with your own difficult thoughts and feelings. Yet giving your children the opportunity to talk to you can help them adjust. It will also support their self-esteem.
It’s quite common for some children – especially teenagers – to ‘lock down’ and refuse to talk about how they’re feeling. They may start with one reaction and then move on to a different one. It’s hard to tell exactly how each of your children will react until it happens so you’ll need to be patient with them as they come to terms with the changes.
Tips for healthy talking
The age of your children will affect how you talk to them. You may find the following helpful for talking to young children:
Talking to your child about difficult subjects
It can help to think about yourself at the same age your child is now. Try working through these questions and plan what the ‘child you’ would have preferred:
Now imagine what you as a young child would need, want or like from an adult that was trying to talk to you.
Engaging with your ‘child self’ in this way, may help you to engage with what your child wants when you come to talking with them about difficult topics.
Talking to teenagers
Even without dealing with their parents’ separation, teenagers have to cope with a lot. The teenage years are a time of great change – in friendships and feelings and, of course, hormones. So there’s a lot going on in their lives already! Meanwhile, heavy demands are often being made in school, college or university.
It can be useful to remember this when you talk to your teenager. Their reaction to your separation (or other things happening at a similar time) may be surprising or challenging. Try not to be disheartened if it’s not a positive experience.
Many teenagers find it hard to express their feelings. Still, your teenager needs to know that you’re there for them when they’re ready to talk – and you need to be prepared for that moment.
Preparing to talk
Before talking to your teenager, be realistic about what you want to achieve. Work together with their other parent, if possible. Teenagers will respect you both more when you’re saying the same things.
The following can help you prepare for talking:
You can watch parents and counsellors talk about how to handle divorce and separation with your teen in this video from Parentchannel.tv.
Remember and reflect
It can be useful to remember that you were a teenager once too. Take some time to think about your own teenage struggles and what might have helped you then.
You may also want to consider the kind of relationship you have with your teenager already. Do they open up and come to you for support, or are they more comfortable at a distance?
Having regular conversations can help
Having regular conversations with your teenager about how they’re feeling and coping with your separation can help them talk about problems when they’re ready. During the conversation try to do the following things to make talking to your teenager easier:
Continual support for your children
When things settle a little, reflect on how talking to your children went.
Make a note of the questions you couldn’t answer right now and remember to revisit them with your children. Be prepared to repeat what you’ve said about separating, they may need reassuring many times before they’re able to come to terms with the news.