Talking To Your Child About Divorce

Photo by Shelby Deeter on Unsplash

Speaking to your child about your divorce can be very difficult. Some parents decide that explanations are unnecessary, and some will discuss with their child, together or separately, their own version of the story. However, like many professionals in my field, I can tell you that it often brings up feelings of anger, resentment and victimisation.

In fact, every family member goes through a series of complicated emotions, including anxiety, shock, terror, feeling used, defenceless, feeling abused, alienated, abandoned, guilt, shame, feeling manipulated, and deceived. Whether partially or completely, each family member will experience some of the above in one way or another.

Advice For Parents – Transparency And Communication Are Key

Honesty and communication should always be the priority. Transparency always sets one free, where no fingers can be pointed later. If you love your child and wish the best for them, be honest and openly communicative about the reason for the joint divorce. At this point, to be thoughtless in behaviour will cause more damage to a child than you may have initially anticipated. A child will harbour feelings of rejection if left neglected throughout the divorce process – especially if there is little or no communication.  

How To Explain Divorce To Your Child

  1. Explaining the decisions behind your divorce to your child should be done in a safe, secure, and familiar environment. It is best done with both parents present, explaining and expressing in the most loving and compassionate way for your child to understand. All the while reassuring them that they are loved, safe and protected.
  2. As parents, you should be totally honest and openly explain the reasons leading to the divorce. Make use of comprehensible language in a context and language best suited to your child.
  3. Avoid long-extended explanations; consider the delicacy of your child’s age and maturity. As parents, your role is to help your child understand that the decision is what is most sensible and for the best.
  4. Never put your child in the position or allow them to take sides.
  5. As parents, you need to put your negative egos aside and think purely of your child. There is no place to be a victim or to victimise.
  6. Never put your child in the position of a mediator or referee between the two of you.
  7. Despite your differences, this is the time to avoid negative remarks or criticism about each other.
  8. Never overwhelm your child with all the ugly details behind the reason for the divorce or any complicated legal information.
  9. Ensure that you never, whether willingly or unwillingly, make your child feel guilty. This can have devasting consequences for your child.
  10. Remember, despite your divorce, you are still a parent and your child should not become a fellow sufferer to make you feel good or supported.
  11. Emphasise that a divorce is strictly between the two of you, not your child. You can reinforce this with language like “We are your parents and always will be. Your mom and I are separating, but this does not mean we are separating from you. We both love you unconditionally through this next chapter and every chapter after.”
  12. Now is the time to be mindful, aware and empathetic towards your child.

No Matter What – Your Child Is First Priority

Divorce is the termination of marriage from a judicial perspective. It is a life-altering judicial and social process that has a profound psychological effect on all family members, particularly traumatic for children. Divorce can be avoided, but in some marriages, it’s unavoidable.

Some parents are able to put their differences aside and focus purely on the development of their children, aiming to lessen the amount of impact on their children. Sometimes, parents even choose to stay married until their child has left the house. No matter what route you find yourself on, when you have children, they are your number priority. You need to ensure reliable love and support at all times without spoiling them due to parental guilt.

Understanding The Clinical Stages Of Divorce

Denial:

Here your child cannot accept the experiences and circumstances associated with divorce, often rejecting the separation despite knowing their parents will be apart.

  • To your child, it seems incomprehensible that their mother and father can love them when they have separated. 
  • They wonder how their parents can care for them when they live in separate houses. 
  • They often wish for things to be the way they were. Here is where you need to address your differences and find a way to become amicable.
  • Denial leads to accusation – You can expect your child to become enraged, outraged with you for not reuniting or putting your differences aside to be a happy family. 
  • Your children may blame one or both of you for destroying the family. Try to be mindful that at this moment, it feels like their dreams have been shattered, they have lost control, and their life as they know it has ended.

Your child’s reactions of denial and avoidance can be overcome when there is constructive communication.

Bargaining:

Here the child undergoes the process of finding ways to fix the damage.

  • They will change their personality and be accommodating to make their parents happy. 
  • They will do anything their parents ask of them to achieve the goal of one family unit. 
  • They will stop complaining about what they like and disapprove of. They will go out of their way to try and be parent-pleasing to gain attention.
  • They may believe their misbehaving contributed to the divorce, and when all fails, they may begin to misbehave excessively. Often you can expect extreme sets of behaviours ‒ swinging between well-behaved and extremely badly behaved.

Depression:

Here you must look for signs of your child being exhausted, sad, depressed and having difficulty controlling their behaviour, feelings, emotions, and actions. Often your child will feel school and home are not stimulating; they constantly need to escape and withdraw.

Acceptance:

Research reveals that children prefer to be in a miserable marriage rather than accept a divorce. But down the line, they will reach an acceptance with clear and productive communication. When your child can identify how much happier you are apart, they’ll be reassured that the decision was for the best.

Throughout the process of a relationship ending, there are often more intense and complicated emotions that will still occur. Reconciliation of divorce must be explained to the child; even when parents are amicable, it does not necessarily mean that it will lead to a reunion.

Facing Developmental Challenges After Divorce

The first five years of a child’s life with their parents are of great importance. Divorce is challenging and stressful for the entire family, but remember, your child will be unable to reach the two most people important people in their lives.

Analysis of divorce has identified the following challenges most parents must address to ensure the most enriching development for their children: 

  • The roles each parent will be required to take
  • How each parent will go about filling in the shoes of the other
  • Rebuilding a new life following the divorce
  • Financial hardships and challenges with relocation
  • Changes within their social circles and relationships

Parents are often disempowered by their children’s negative life satisfaction following divorce. This can be aggravated by:

  • Lifestyle change and relocation
  • Spending weekends with one parent
  • Seeing one parent less frequently 

Positive life satisfaction allows for positive psychology and positive relationships to be created with lasting outcomes. Positive attitudes from both parents contribute towards strengthened relationships on both sides.

Another developmental downfall children face with divorce is where one parent begins to show extreme tolerance towards the child, no matter their behaviour. They tend to overcompensate, which paves the way for the development of negative behavioural problems and patterns.

To avoid this, a balance must be maintained. Parental extremes on any end of the scale can rob the child of developing and maturing. This manifests itself as children becoming:

  • Self-centred, selfish, arrogant and self-serving
  • Entitled – where they must always have their way or must win at all costs  
  • Deceitful – often cheating to get their way
  • Unappreciative
  • Unethical – exhibiting a lack of integrity and morals
  • Obsessed with money
  • Manipulative – finding ways to take advantage
  • Self-absorbed and out of touch with reality
  • Spiteful and vindictive to a new partner covertly or openly

Understanding The Factors That Impact A Child’s Experiences After Divorce

Divorce is a transformation for all involved, especially the child. It is a turning point in life. Divorce is regarded as a grieving process. I find that the best time to explain the situation to a child is approximately one week before a parent moves out. This will undoubtedly raise many questions, concerns and preoccupying thoughts and concerns. But as parents, you can guide them through their experiences of change and transformation by understanding their experiences.

A child’s experience of the divorce process is impacted by the following:

  1. Age
  2. Gender
  3. Parental attitudes towards child and spouse
  4. Parent’s educational level
  5. Parent’s professional status
  6. Parents and family’s socioeconomic status
  7. The number of siblings in the family
  8. Success status of each sibling
  9. Support or ridicule from school and friend groups
  10.  Their own fears/anxieties

Anxiety In Children Following Divorce

The above factors influence levels of anxiety and worry in children, paving the way for psychological reactions as they age. As separated parents continue to prolong disputes, even creating additional conflicts after divorce, the child’s anxiety and frequency thereof may increase. For every action, there is always a reaction. How one reacts to themselves or how they respond to another person based on the circumstances they find themselves in.

Anxiety can manifest in various ways:

  • Fear of a parent may introduce or enhance bed wetting.  
  • Some children may, at various levels of the parental conflicts, slightly withdraw and may even completely shut down to avoid worrying.
  • They may even abstain from other events or groups associated with their peers.
  • Some may retreat, reject, disconnect, and even project their anxiety or anger as a defence mechanism.

Addressing Your Child’s Issues At A Subconscious Level

Once you’ve had the discussion with your child, explaining the decisions behind your divorce, you can expect a whirlwind of emotions, triggers, and behaviours to follow. As parents, it’s your role to put your differences aside and be there as support and guidance.

This is where I can help. My name is Dr John Souglides, and I am a qualified and registered Hypnotherapist, holding doctorates in the fields of Self Development and Self Empowerment, Holistic Life Coaching, Transpersonal Counselling, Parapsychology, and Martial Art Science.

With hypnotherapy, I guide my patients into a heightened state of awareness and relaxation where we can uncover the root behavioural and emotional problems in the depths of the infinite subconscious. I can help identify, uncover and work through various negative impacts that stem from divorce, including anxiety, depression, trauma and addiction.

If you are concerned for your child’s well-being and personal development following a divorce, don’t hesitate to book an appointment. Together we can establish systems and solutions to manage your child’s core issues. Reach out and begin your journey into your new chapter with me today.

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