Parents are separating: what to say to your child


When the cell of society, the family, cracks, it is a difficult trial that both adults and children have to overcome. A child who finds out that their parents are separating can experience many negative emotions, including fear, anxiety, anger, sadness, and even apathy. In this article, we will discuss how to avoid traumatizing your child during a divorce and help them cope with the situation.

How do children of different ages react to their parents’ separation?

The results of multiple psychological studies show that children suffer from a sense of loss during divorce, and these feelings can manifest in different ways depending on the age of the children and their individual perception of the situation, as well as how the parents themselves cope with the divorce.

Younger children may struggle to learn basic life skills due to the stress, and their sleep may become disrupted. School-age children and adolescent children of divorced parents may show symptoms of depression, rebel against discipline, or change their eating and sleeping habits. Specifically, teenagers may face acute emotional problems. They often experience a process of grief, confusion, and despair.

What taboos exist in relation to the child during a divorce?

According to Ukrainian psychologist Dmitry Karpachev, many parents make three significant mistakes that negatively affect the psychological state of their children:

  • Arguing in front of the child. The child becomes a “hostage” of the situation during the moment of conflict between the parents.
  • Using the child as a bargaining chip. Manipulations, bribes, prohibitions – all of these do not fit into the rights of parents.
  • Involving relatives and friends in the conflict. Negativity will follow the child everywhere – whether he is at his grandmother’s house, with his aunt, or his mother’s friend.

So, how can adults establish a “high relationship” in the presence of the child and minimize their negative emotions? Below we provide several valuable tips on how to talk to your child about your divorce.

How to properly prepare a child for changes?

Undoubtedly, there will be many discussions within the family and one-on-one conversations about divorce. Children reflect on the internal family breakdown not only when it happens, but also for a long time afterward. Together with child psychologists, we have prepared a series of key tips on how to talk to your child about your divorce.

Apply these psychological tricks in practice to maximize your little one’s emotional stability.

Explain the situation in language that your child can understand.

Your child should not be privy to all the details of your personal conflict with your partner. But they have the right to know what is happening, where they will live, and who will take care of them. Most importantly, your child should be reassured that they will not be abandoned by the parent who is leaving the home.

During the conversation, you should be as open and honest as possible. For example, you can say to your child when explaining the divorce: “We both love you and will take care of you. But we have decided that it will be better for our family if we live separately with daddy.”

Tune in to your child’s concerns.

Divorce and a child are boundless internal conflicts in their childish soul and many questions, sometimes without concrete answers. Serious concerns may be hiding behind such questions. For example, if your child asks when daddy will come back next time, they may be worried that meetings will be infrequent and will begin to doubt their love.

If, for example, such a question was asked, calm your child down with simple words. For example: “It seems like you’re worried about seeing daddy. You will still see him every week. I understand that this is very important to you.”

Whatever question your child asks, it is helpful to assure them that both parents love them.

Talk about your feelings

Your child will likely see when you are sad, angry, or upset. This is normal. If your little one understands that you are expressing your feelings in a calm and healthy way, they will realize that it is also normal for them to do so.

When your child expresses their own feelings, try to listen to them attentively. In this case, the psychology of the relationship between parents and children is built on emotions and honesty, which will help both the child and the parent to cope with the divorce easier. Heartfelt conversations will give you both the opportunity to better understand each other’s feelings. You can say, for example, “I see that you are upset,” “I understand that this is upsetting for you,” or “I would be upset if this happened to me too.”

Don’t criticize the other parent

Divorce is a painful event. Each parent may have grievances or complaints about the other. It is important that the child is not involved in these misunderstandings as it exacerbates their suffering.

As a rule, the mother and child continue to live together. There are, of course, other situations where the child spends most of their time with the father. However, regardless of any outcome, do not criticize the other parent, their parenting style, family structure, or other aspects of their life. Do not use your child to “spy” on your ex-partner. Regardless of your feelings towards your ex-partner, your child still loves them and deserves a clean relationship with them.

Discuss life after divorce together

Before starting such discussions, consider your child’s age. Keep in mind that young children will not perceive too much information, so you should organize several joint conversations. Provide information step by step – start with basic agreements. Remember that the responsibilities and rights of the child after the divorce of the parents should not be imposed but agreed upon!

We have given several effective tips on how to answer children’s questions about divorce. Remember: no matter how your relationship with your ex-partner develops, you have something that connects you, and that is your child, for whom it is worth compromising.

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