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Monday, October 24, 2016

Talking to Your Young Child About Your Divorce

Talking to young children about your divorce isn't easy.  Depending upon what your child has heard about from their  friends, she may or may not understand what the word "divorce" means or might have misconceptions (see my article:

Talking to Your Young Child About Your Divorce

This is why you and your spouse want to be on the same page about how to approach your child, choosing the right time and keeping it simple.

Here are some basic suggestions:

Get Together With Your spouse Beforehand and Present a United Front:  
  • Even though you and your spouse might not be getting along, you both need to put aside your differences for your child's sake.  You might be relieved that the marriage will soon be over, but expect that your child probably will be upset about it, even if she witnessed the marital conflicts.  
  • Decide in advance what you will say and keep it as simple as possible.  If your child asks why you're getting divorced, you can say something simple like, "We're not getting along," but don't say, "We don't love each other anymore" because this could lead to your child thinking that, at some point, you might not love her anymore.
Choose the Right Time and Place and Leave Plenty of Time For This Talk:
  • Choose a time when it's quiet and you'll have privacy to talk.  Also allot enough time for your child's questions or emotional reactions
  • This isn't the kind of talk you want to have with your child in a car, in a public place, before your child goes to school or just before you go to work. 
Remain Calm and Bring Forth Your "Best Self:"
  • You and your spouse need to summon your most mature and "best selves" to have this conversation.
  • This isn't the time to blame your spouse or for your spouse to blame you for things that haven't worked out or to express your grievances about the marriage.
  • It's also not the time to try to get your child to side with you.
Reassure Your Child That It Isn't Her Fault :
  • It's very important to assure your child that the breakup of your relationship isn't her fault.  Young children are naturally egocentric during the early stage of their development and it's normal for a child to blame herself for the divorce.
  • It's also very important to let her know that, even though the marriage will be over, you each will love her always and she'll be safe.

Talking to Your Young Child About Your Divorce

Explain What the Living and Visitation Arrangements Will Be:
  • Once again, due to the early stage of a young child's development, your child will naturally be concerned about where she will live.
  • You need to explain the living and visitation arrangements to your child in a simple way.
  • Anticipate other questions.
Don't Assume That Your Child is Okay Just Because She's Not Reacting:
  • Depending upon your child's personality and level of maturity, she may or may not react immediately.
  • Don't assume that everything is okay because she's quiet.
  • Although she is quiet, there can still be a lot going on in her mind that she's not expressing, so you might need to elicit questions or concerns during and after the initial talk.
Anticipate That Your Child Might Regress or Act Out After the Talk:
  • It's not unusual for a child to regress to an earlier stage of development after you and your spouse talk about the divorce.  Young children usually don't have the communication skills to express their feelings, so their upset is often expressed through a regression or through acting out.
  • A child of five or six might start wetting the bed or start using baby talk or feel the need to be treated like a baby again.
  • This usually passes, but if it doesn't speak with your pediatrician and explain what's going on.
  • Acting out could take the form of testing limits, like refusing to do homework or suddenly not want to go to school.
  • Speaking of school, your child's academic performance and behavior in school might become problematic, so you want to remain in contact with the school.  
  • Try to be as compassionate as you can be and recognize that your child might need further reassurance that she's going to be okay and that you and your spouse will each be okay.

Talking to Your Young Child About Your Divorce

Check In With Your Child From Time to Time After The Talk:
  • It often takes young children a while to absorb all the implications of how she will be affected by the divorce, so it's best to check in with your child from time to time.
  • Anticipate that she might try to bargain with the two of you to try to get you to stay together, so you might have to explain it to her again, keeping it simple.
Try Not to Worry Too Much--Most Children Are Resilient:
  • Although it's normal for your child to be sad, disappointed or angry about the divorce, over time, most children are resilient and eventually bounce back, especially if you and your spouse can be respectful of one another and have an amicable relationship when it comes to the welfare of your child.
  • Change can be challenging for anyone, especially children, who need structure and routine, but most children adjust to new routines, especially if they know what to expect.
  • If your child is having an especially difficult time, consider taking your child to a child therapist for help.
Seek Professional Help If You and Your Spouse Are Having a Hard Time Calm and Respectful Towards Each Other For the Sake of Your Child:
  • Although you and your spouse might be beyond fixing your problems, you will need to co-parent your child until she is at least 21.
  • If you're having a hard time coming together in a respectful, calm way, you could benefit from attending marriage counseling to develop the necessary skills to communicate effectively with your child.
  • It would be better to get help in advance than to have a talk with your child if you can't contain your hostility and anger.
  • Learning how to be mature and respectful when you talk to your child and in the co-parenting process will help your child to process the change in a healthy way.  You and your spouse will also feel better about yourselves in the long run.

Getting Help in Therapy to Co-Parent After the Divorce

Next ArticleCo-parenting After the Divorce

Getting Help in Therapy
Most people associate marriage counseling with trying to work out problems in a marriage so you can stay together.  That is certainly one aspect of marriage counseling.  But people also come to marriage counseling to learn how to part amicably, whether there are children are not.

If you have children, you and your spouse owe it to them and to yourselves to be your "best selves," which is often difficult to do when you're getting a divorce.

Being able to put your child first, regardless of your feelings towards your spouse, is important, and seeking help if you're unsure of yourselves can be the best step that you take during this challenging time.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.

Also see my article: Coparenting After the Divorce.