Divorce can be difficult when there are just two adults involved, but it can be especially tricky when there are also minor children in the picture. If your spouse is moving out of your marital home, it’s important to prepare your child for the transition in your family’s life.
No matter how you feel about your separation or your child’s other parent, you’ll want to put your child’s emotional needs first and do everything you can to support them through this difficult time. Here are some tips to help you do this.
1. Talk to your child about the divorce (and let them talk, too).
One of the most important things you can do for your child when you talk about the divorce is to let them do the majority of the talking while you listen and offer emotional support. When you do respond, reassure your child that both parents still love them and that the divorce is not their fault. In addition, make sure they know they can go to either of you when they need to talk.
2. Set a good example with calm, civil behavior.
Arguing tends to be a normal part of a divorce, but that doesn’t mean that it’s appropriate to do in front of your child. Constant hostility can have a detrimental effect on children of all ages. It may cause your child to experience fear and worry about you, your spouse, themselves, and even relationships in general as they grow up. If it’s difficult to remain civil with your ex, consider meeting without your child present to discuss anything related to the divorce. You might also benefit from a parent coach, individually or as a couple, to navigate difficult issues surrounding your children.
3. Do your best to answer their questions honestly and age-appropriately.
Not knowing what to expect as your family redefines itself can cause extreme stress for children. While it may seem kinder to shield them from the truth that one parent will be moving out or the details of future custody agreements, in reality, this just leads to greater feelings of uncertainty and instability. By providing factual, age-appropriate information to your child based on their developmental and maturity level, you offer them the structure they need to navigate their new reality.
4. Assure them that it’s not their fault their parent moved out.
Many children immediately blame themselves when a parent leaves. They may believe if they had been better-behaved or done something different, their parent would still be in the home. It’s important to dispel this belief and reinforce the truth: that the matter is between you and your spouse, and that the child is not to blame.
5. Validate their feelings and let them know it’s OK to be emotional.
A divorce is a highly volatile event for adults and for children. Children don’t have the emotional regulation of adults and they may not fully understand the situation, which can further reduce their emotional control. They may alternate between sadness, anger, guilt, self-doubt, etc.
When they become emotional, it’s important to let them know that it’s OK to feel however they feel and encourage them to discuss what they’re feeling so you can help them process it and move forward.
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