Divorce can be damaging all across the board, but children suffer the most. Here are some smart ways to get them through the ordeal by minimizing the damage.
Make It Clear That Your Child Is Loved By Both Parents
Divorce is hard, especially for children. Your children need to know that you both love them. While kids are pretty smart, they’re also naive. They don’t really make the connection that mommy and daddy don’t love each other anymore and that it has nothing to do with them.
To a child, all that they see is that mom and dad are splitting up and one is leaving. The risk of the child feeling abandoned is high, and there’s a strong possibility that the child might think mommy or daddy is leaving because they’re been a “bad boy” or “bad girl.”
According to one Wake County divorce attorney, it’s important for you to tell your children, explicitly, that:
- it’s not their fault and;
- neither you or your soon-to-be ex spouse are abandoning them.
Don’t Sugarcoat The Situation
While you should make every effort to make it clear that you love your child, don’t sugarcoat the divorce either. The reality is that you and your spouse don’t love each other anymore. And, if you can put it into language that your children understand, you should.
Avoid the temptation to bad-mouth your spouse or exaggerate the circumstances of the divorce. Remember, to your child, both of you are equal. Your child loves both of you. If you attack your spouse, your child is unlikely to see it your way. Instead, he or she will see you attacking the person he or she loves.
That’s more likely to result in your child not liking you, growing to resent you, or wanting to cut ties with you altogether then he or she is older.
Stick to the facts.
You could say something like, “Mom and I aren’t in love anymore and she is moving on to other things, but we both still love you and you will still see us all the time.”
That kind of explanation has the benefit of being both true and yet not fanciful or exaggerated. And, you don’t have to go into the nitty-gritty details of the divorce either. If your child is 6, they probably don’t understand anyway.
For example, if you fell in love with someone else, there’s no need to say that. All you need to tell your child right now is that you and your spouse aren’t in love anymore and you’re moving on in your life.
Make Backup Plans
Make backup plans for visitation, just in case. It’s unfortunate, but sometimes, your spouse may be late for visitation. What do you do to cover for him or her? Rather than leaving your child to sit there, bored, you could have a backup plan to go out for ice cream or watch a movie, or do something else with your child until your spouse shows up.
Encourage Your Child To Communicate
Encourage your child to communicate with you and your spouse. You might be surprised by what your child has to say. He may express anger. That’s fine. Don’t validate or invalidate his emotions. Just acknowledge them.
The reason you shouldn’t validate or invalidate emotions is because you don’t want to place a moral judgement on them. Emotions aren’t good or bad. They just are. At the same time, you want to acknowledge them by saying something like, “I understand you’re feeling this way.”
Don’t use words like “but” to invalidate those emotions – it’s tricky because we’ve all been taught to do this. Just acknowledge and let the child express his feelings. Offer advice after, but phrase it as a separate though:
“I understand you’re feeling this way. I want to help” or, “I understand you feel this way. what do you think we should do about it?”
Michael Sandoval has spent a good part of his career in relationship counseling. He likes to share his insights with an online audience and has previously posted his thoughts on a number of relationship and family related blogs.