Divorce can have a devastating impact on every part of your life, from your own feelings about yourself and your beliefs about love to the stability of your family unit and your support network. In particular, you may find that your young children really struggle. While children of all ages suffer during a divorce, the research overwhelmingly shows that younger children struggle more. How you approach this topic will lay the groundwork for their healing process. Luckily, there are lots of child development professionals and other resources available to you in the Sugar Land area.
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Seek Professional Assistance to Discuss Divorce With Minor Children
If at all possible, you and your ex-partner may want to meet with a family therapist for targeted advice about how to approach this conversation. This does require a certain level of cooperation, so it’s not an option for everyone—but if you can both agree on doing what’s best for your children, this is a great first step.
Commit to Collaborating With Your Co-parent
This can be especially challenging if the marriage is ending because of something your co-parent did to you—abuse, infidelity, and there are financial considerations as well – but you have to push past it to do what is best for your children. Children internalize a lot of what they hear their parents say about the other parent, and they begin to see themselves in that way. If this seems impossible for you, talk to a therapist with specialized experience in divorce and loss.
Read Up on the Child’s Perspective and Level of Understanding
Your child’s age and specific developmental level will really guide what you say and how you say it. You could walk away from a conversation thinking you’ve nailed it, only to later find out that you used terms far above what your child could understand. This is where the input of a family therapist can help.
Focus On Age-Appropriate Language and Phrasing
You don’t want to make this conversation longer than necessary. It will be very hard on your child and likely you and your coparent. Talking on and on will only overwhelm your child and give them more information than they can really absorb. Focus on a few key points you want to address and end it there, knowing that your child will undoubtedly have questions.
Reassure the Child and Explain the Changes Coming
Reassurance is your top priority here. It is very common for young children to think that divorce is a direct result of their behavior. Above all, make sure your child knows that you both love them more than anything else in the world and that your love will not change, even though the family is changing. Reassure them that even if life looks a little different from here on out, they will still be very close with their parents. Of course, if that isn’t the case—if your ex is moving out of state or has no interest in parenting—don’t say that. In these scenarios, it’s even more important to talk to a specialist before broaching the topic with your child.
Use child-friendly language to explain the changes that will affect their life. If one parent is moving out, you can explain that and reiterate that the other parent will still be close. Don’t go into too much detail or look too far into the future. Your child likely cannot process that at this stage.
While it’s okay to highlight the positives where you can, don’t engage in toxic positivity. Trying to make your child feel better by promising two birthdays, two Christmases, two cool bedrooms, and so on often has the effect of downplaying the very real loss they are about to go through.
Encourage the Child to Communicate With You
Be available to answer your child’s questions and listen to their concerns. This may overwhelm you, as you’re dealing with your own grief, but being there for your child lays the foundation for a strong relationship moving forward.