The stress of navigating a divorce can be exhausting for parents and children alike. Telling your child that her mom and dad won't be living together any more is just the first step in what can be a very difficult process of adjustment.
Breaking the sad news that you'll be getting divorced can be scary for parents and children. It's always best to talk to kids together to avoid confusion. Younger children may be confused about what divorce means: who will I live with? Do I have to move? Do Mom and Dad still love each other? Do Mom and Dad still love me? Be prepared to answer these questions before they are asked.
Young children need clear, simple language that outlines the basic, tangible changes that will occur. Eventually they may want to ask more complicated questions about why and how divorces happen, but for the initial conversation, keep it simple.
Older children may ask more difficult questions. Most older kids understand why couples, in general, get divorced. They might be shocked or angry and may blame one or both parents. Try to react calmly without invalidating their feelings. Let them know what physical changes will occur: where will they live, how often will they see each of you, what school will they go to. Being grounded in the tangible changes will help older kids process their complex emotional reactions.
Making sense of divorce requires an on-going conversation -- kids will need time to think on their own about how they feel about the situation. Kids will likely experience sadness, confusion, anger, resentment, fear, or loneliness. It's important to remind children that divorce only involved their parents feelings about each other, and that both parents still love them very much. Guilt is a common feeling for children of divorced parents. Reinforce that your divorce was not your child's fault, and that you don't blame him or her for anything that has happened.
Kids of all ages may have difficultly putting their emotions into words. Don't force conversations about divorce, but give your children ample opportunity to express their feelings. Encourage your kids to keep a journal of their feelings. Give them art supplies if they can't seem to use words to express themselves. Remember that your child may be talking to friends, teachers, or counselors about his feelings; he or she may not be ready to talk to you yet.
Children's feelings often manifest in their behavior. A child may start acting out by talking back, skipping school, getting in fights, or refusing to fulfill household responsibilities. Tell your child that you understand why he or she feels frustrated, but he or she still needs to behave appropriately at home and at school. It's important to legitimize your child's feelings without condoning her bad behavior. If something more serious is happening, like suspected drug use or trouble with authorities, seek the help of a school or professional counselor before the problem becomes a crisis.
Also remember that, as a parent, you are still your child's number one model for behavior. If you spend your time bad mouthing your ex, arguing in front of the kids, or shutting out the world, expect your child to start to model some of your behavior. It can be difficult to hold yourself together during the trauma of a divorce, but maintaining your role as a good parent can actually help you focus your energy on your family and move forward with your life. Divorced families are still families, and children need their parents to help them work through the changes that accompany divorce.
Reference URL: http://kidshealth.org/parent/positive/talk/help_child_divorce.html