Explaining separation or divorce to your children
Children find the break-up of their parents really hard to deal with. How can they be helped to get through it as painlessly as possible?
At difficult times such as during a divorce, children need their parents to help them through and explain things to them. They need to feel loved and protected by them.
There are certain ages when they are particularly fragile regarding a split between their parents; between 3 and 6 years old and in their teenage years. The upheaval is even more difficult to handle because at these stages of their lives, children need stable points of reference.
But don't feel guilty by thinking that children of divorced parents don't do so well at school, or that they are at greater risk of drifting into crime. This is not true and an amicable divorce is much better than parents sticking together who no longer love each other, moan a lot or argue the whole day long.
"You are not the cause of this separation."
By nature, children are self-centred and can only understand situations in relation to themselves. So logically they are going to be convinced that they are the cause of the breakdown in your relationship. "Is the reason you argue so often because of the silly things I do?" or "Are you leaving because I don't do as I'm told?" are questions they may either ask out loud or think deep down inside.
Even if they don't come out and voice this concern, it's still very real and something you should take into account. You need to make it very clear to them that they have nothing to do with your disagreement: on no account must they feel responsible for the separation.
"We still love you just the same."
Nothing has changed or is going to change, and both of you still love your child just as much: that's the message you must get across to him. He needs to feel loved and protected and must never feel unsure of his place in your hearts, even (and especially!) if a new life is already looming on the horizon (step-brothers and sisters for him, a new partner for you...).
"I know that you are feeling unhappy."
Your child really needs to be able express her feelings, her anger and sorrow faced with a situation which wasn't of her choosing and which makes her unhappy and that she is powerless to do anything about.
You must understand and accept her outbursts, sulkiness, harsh words or silences as it's through accepting her pain that you will give her the means to get through it. Never reject it.
Once he has understood what has shaken him up, your child will ask practical questions about his regular world that he's frightened will now be turned upside down. Will we have to move house? Am I going to stay at the same school and keep my friends? Where will I go at Christmas time? You need to give him quick and precise answers so he doesn't worry himself sick.
Explain clearly to him what is going to change and don't forget that the younger a child is, the more he connects his family with his house. It's his main point of reference, so ideally, at least during all the upheaval, try to keep to his routines and stay in the same home and school environment as far as possible.
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