How to tell a young child about divorce

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School-age kids know that divorce means their parents' marriage has ended. They may have friends whose parents are divorced and may be familiar with the concept of a mom and a dad living apart. They'll be anxious about things like where they'll live and go to school, and they'll likely have a lot of detailed questions for you, so be prepared with some answers. Most important is to assure them that they'll be cared for and loved, no matter what. Don't be surprised if your child shows s of insecurity or regression, becomes extra mischievous, uncooperative, or clingy, or seeks a lot of attention from you and others during this difficult time.

Even the most amicable of separations creates an earth-shattering change for any child. Kids find both to be very scary. Some kids will be openly sad or angry, while others may deny they have any feelings at all about it. Yet school-age kids can be surprisingly resilient and able to adapt. How you talk to them about divorce — before, during, and after it happens — will make a big difference in how they cope over the long run.

What they need most from you right now is reassurance and consistency in the routines they rely on. Choose your timing. If you and your spouse are considering a separation or divorce, keep it to yourselves until you know for sure.

While it may seem more honest to err on the side of full disclosure, the uncertainty of hearing "Dad and Mom are thinking about getting divorced" will unnecessarily confuse your child. Susanna Cox of Abingdon, Virginia, mother of thenyear-old Mikaela, kept mum until she knew the date when her ex would be leaving. Choose a moment when you'll be together afterward to offer plenty of hugs and reassurances.

Tell her together. Even if you disagree about everything else, try to agree on what to tell your child, for his sake. Ideally, parents should break the news as a team. Telling your child together avoids confusion — he'll hear only one version of the story — and conveys that it was a mutual decision. According to Paul Coleman, psychologist and author of How to Say It to Your Kids , there's a more important reason, too: It helps preserve your child's sense of trust in both parents. Keep it simple. Speak in terms your child will understand, limiting the initial explanation to no more than a few key sentences.

You might start with "Mommy and Daddy have done a lot of thinking," then explain, for example, that Mommy is going to get a new apartment. Aim to know what the visitation days and times will be before the conversation so you can share those details. It will comfort your child to know he'll continue to see both parents and that there's a plan. Also, if your child has witnessed a lot of arguments, acknowledge that fact and explain that you're trying to do what's best for the family. Susanna Cox recalls putting it this way: "You know Mommy and Daddy have been arguing a lot lately, and we always seem to be in a grumpy mood with each other.

Well, Daddy has decided that he needs to take some time and he's going to move out on his own. Daddy is going to move in with Uncle Brad and see how he likes living on his own. You'll still get to see him when he isn't working, so at least every other weekend you'll get to spend with your daddy and Uncle Brad — won't that be cool? Tell your child that it's not his fault. Children may blame themselves for the breakup, even if they don't say so. Your child might think the change is happening because he didn't clean his room or do well in school.

He might also assume some responsibility for trying to fix the problem. Tell him flat out that the divorce is an adult decision and has nothing to do with him. Isolina Ricci, a psychotherapist who wrote Mom's House, Dad's House for Kids , offers this example of how to put it: "Sometimes things happen with mommies and daddies.

We're really sorry that it happened, but it's not anything you've done. However angry you might be, don't blame your spouse for the breakup, and avoid arguing in front of your child. Also keep to yourself any details about an extramarital affair or financial problem. But children will take this as a betrayal — or worse, criticism of them.

If Dad calls Mom a "liar" or "cheat," they begin to see themselves, half the product of Mom, as half a liar, half a cheat. Rachel Sarah, mother of 8-year-old Mae and author of Single Mom Seeking: Playdates, Blind Dates, and other Dispatches of the Dating World , says, "I always try to remember that no matter what, my daughter is related to her father. Whatever I say about him will reflect on her.

Don't make your kitchen table divorce central. Keep divorce papers out of sight — especially from who can read — and don't discuss legal issues, even on the phone, when your child could overhear you. If there's a custody evaluation — which entails home visits by a mental health professional to observe and interview the child and family — minimize the impact by not building it up too much or coaching your child on what to say.

But we'll always be your parents, and we'll always love you. This will help you understand the notions your children have about divorce and what fears they may harbor about losing friends, families, a parent, a home, or social standing. While divorce is common, it can be awkward for your child at a time when kids are comparing themselves to each other and fretting about fitting in. Kimberly Turtenwald's children were toddlers when she separated from her ex and are now 6 and 9.

Few of their classmates are in divorced families, and they sometimes feel envious of two-parent clans. If there are examples of families in your community who co-parent successfully, says Ricci, and the children are well-liked and accepted by their peers, you can bring that up when the time is right. That was a concern for Jennifer Cox of Spencerville, Ohio, whose children were ages 10, 6, 5, and 3 when she and her husband separated: "We did our best to assure them that parents love their children forever and that nothing can change that. Don't be hurt when he pines for his other parent, and let him vent his sadness.

Even though you don't see her as much, you can talk to Mommy every day. She isn't far away. You have your own special bed at her house, and you'll see her every week. Can I still go visit Uncle Bill? She explained to her daughter that since she only got to see her dad twice a month, she should try to relax and snuggle with him before deciding to come home.

What about Rover? Who's going to take me to gymnastics? At Mommy's new house, you'll have your own special bedroom for when you visit. Jennifer Cox recalls her children asking, "Will Daddy be sad without us? Pour on the love. Divorce is difficult for children to understand and accept. While your child adjusts, he'll need a lot of your affection and attention.

Resist the urge to talk constantly on the phone or let TV become the sitter. Give him more snuggle time or an extra story at night. Just as you benefit from your support network of relatives and friends now more than ever, your child needs extra hugs and kisses from you.

Keep talking. Even after the news has sunk in, be prepared to go over the same explanations and answer questions again and again, for weeks or even months. Make sure your child knows that you're open to questions about the divorce any time, even if what you really want is to stop talking about it. Keep routines consistent. The disruption of divorce can make it difficult to maintain routines or even keep the house tidy. But continuing 's regular schedule, in Mom's house and Dad's house, makes children feel safe.

Make sure the kids keep going to school and any classes or practices — the more things remain the same for your child, the more stable he'll feel. Don't let things devolve into chaos. Horvath recalls that her home had been disorganized and dysfunctional. But post-separation, "the new house was much more organized, and my kids responded well to that," she says. Look for s of trouble. Your child may have difficulties adjusting to visitation and custody arrangements.

Look for s like misbehavior or withdrawal, particularly after a visit with the other parent. To open up a dialogue without putting words in your child's mouth, say something like, "I'm wondering if you're missing your Mom right now. Don't make your child a spy. When returns home from a visit, resist the temptation to pump him for information about what the other parent did or said. No matter how curious you may be, don't attempt to turn your child into a confidant. Be clear about the fact that Mom and Dad are not getting back together. School-age kids may also have strong fantasies about their parents getting back together.

At this age, might also try to figure out how to make a reconciliation happen or reduce tension between parents. Be sure to avoid creating unrealistic expectations. Consider seeing a family therapist to guide you and your child through this transition. Horvath took her two kids, then ages 4 and 7, to a therapist six months after the split. If your divorce means, as it often does, that you're taking a financial hit and your kids can no longer have every toy they want or take expensive vacations, let them know you'll still do lots of fun things together.

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How to tell a young child about divorce

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How to Talk to Your Children about Divorce