How should parents tell their children about divorce?



Approximately 40 to 45 percent of all children in the United States will experience the marital disruption or divorce of their parents, according to Census Bureau statistics. Studies of children whose parents recently divorced showed wide variation on how they were impacted by the divorce. Most studies indicate, however, that divorce is difficult on children, no matter what their age. Many of those surveyed indicated they were completely unprepared for their parents' separation. To help alleviate some of the stress and fears children experience during this time, consider these ideas.

• Most importantly, be sure that as parents, you have tried professional assistance in repairing the marriage before calling it quits. Divorce will likely not be easy on anyone and if the marriage is repairable, quality, professional counseling can help. Recent research indicates that parents with dysfunctional marriages who received professional help and stayed together were happier years down the road than those who got a divorce. Some marriages are not repairable, but many are.

• If the marriage is not repairable and the decision to separate is inevitable, parents should meet together with the children and tell them of their plans to separate. This should be done in advance of the separation in a calm setting. Explain why the breakup is happening and what has been explored to prevent it. It is important at this time that children have a chance to discuss what this means to them.

• Reassure children that they are not responsible for the breakup, but that whatever they do or say is not likely to restore the relationship. Thank them for their concern. Apologize for hurting them and causing the disruption in their lives.

• Discuss the changes that will likely come into their lives, and how everyone in the family should be kind and may even have to be brave in facing these changes together. Reassure children that they are still loved by both parents and give them permission to love both parents. Assure children that both parents will still be available to them. Discuss all the possibilities available to them as far as living with one or the other parent.

• After the separation, it is important not to put children in the middle while handling differences. Do not quiz them on the whereabouts or behavior of the other parent. It is not fair to have children report on the activities of the other parent. Refrain from making derogatory comments about their other parent.

• After the separation occurs, both parents should regularly spend time with the children. It is also important that both parents allow children to ask questions and discuss their feelings regarding the divorce as often as they need to.

• The more amiable the divorce is and the events leading to it, the easier it is on children. Conflict between the parents is likely one of the most destructive elements of a divorce.

• It is usually best if neither parent rushes into another relationship. It is often difficult for children to accept another person into their circle of family relationships--especially soon after a divorce.

• Finally, it is important to note that there seems to be little relationship between how children react at the time of the divorce and how they will fare later in life.

Posted on 21 Aug 2003

Glen Jenson
Family and Human Development Specialist

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