Are you thinking about getting a divorce? Divorce is hard for adults to face. Having to talk about it can be even harder. Talking to your children about it can be even harder still. So how do you you tell your children you’re getting a divorce?
Olly Lambert was 14 when his father told him that he and his mother were getting a divorce. He said, ” I remember bursting into tears and running off to my friend’s house just to get away. It felt like a collapse of everything I had known, everything I knew I could rely on …” At 40, the now documentary-maker decided to film what happened after those conversations for other children. It’s not hard to find a child that has separated or divorced parents. In Britain, one in three children have parents who split up and Australian divorce rates are similar.
His experience was almost identical to many of the children who’s stories he heard. “It began with the parents calling the child in, sitting him or her down and saying: ‘You know we’ve not been getting on very well together, don’t you?’ Then the parents would say they were separating, and the child would cry and run out of the room in tears, knowing their world had just fallen in and that life would never be the same again,” said Lambert. Although the children were aware that their parents had been fighting and not getting along, they still were unprepared for the conversation and the content.
Darryl, who was 10 when his parents split, remembers thinking, when they told him to sit down on the sofa, that they were going to tell him their newly hatched holiday plans. Daisy – 14 at the time – thought when her parents called her downstairs that they had just been having a chat, and that everything was fine. But it wasn’t and for many children the impacts are long-lasting and far-reaching. So when you’re getting a divorce, how do you minimise the impact of this conversation without treating it lightly?
Parents Getting A Divorce Can Be Like a Trauma
Vikki Stark, a psychotherapist and family therapist, decided to write a book about how to tell kids you’re getting a divorce after seeing so many parents make a real mess of it. She interviewed more than 100 children and adults to find out what it really feels like to hear that your parents are divorcing. While we know that parents getting a divorce can come as a shock to some children, what was a big surprise in Vikki’s research was “evidence that for some children, news of their parents’ upcoming separation constitutes an actual physical trauma. Time slows down, the world feels unreal and their bodies go into shock. This is important because we know how to prevent and treat shock, so armed with that knowledge, parents can recognize the signs and react quickly,” says Vikki.
Parents need to go slowly with their children, helping them to feel loved and understood at this incredibly life-altering moment.The trauma of this particular conversation comes from the feeling of isolation. Vikki says the way of counteracting that is to help your child feel connected.
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One of the key things at the heart of good parenting is attunement. Being aware of and appropriately responsive to another is called attunement. For parents relating to their children it means being aware of how their child is feeling. Are they sad, confused, interested or disengaged? We can tell this mostly from their body language. Our non-verbal communication and their non-verbal communication accounts for a very large percentage of how we are communicating with each other. By listening, watching and engaging carefully we can be attuned to our child’s emotional state. What parents communicate at this time will largely depend on how receptive you think your child is at the time. Vikki says that the art of being tuned in to your children’s emotions means “Listening carefully, Acknowledging and Accepting their feelings” and responding appropriately.
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Being truthful and compassionate will help as you tell your children that you are getting a divorce, but here are some more tips to ensure they feel connected during this difficult time.
1.Timing. Using common sense here will go a long way. There is no ‘perfect’ time for this conversation, but there are some times to try and avoid. If a special event or celebration is coming up for them then wait until afterward. Staying away from Christmas, birthdays, important school events or a special sporting game will show your respect for them. Don’t tell them at the end of a really long day when they (and you) are exhausted. Tell them face-to-face.
2. Be age appropriate. Only tell them what they need to know. Some questions they may have might need a more general response rather than either of you launching into any nitty-gritty about your relationship. One suggestion that covers all bases is “Daddy and I don’t share the same idea about how to be a couple any more” which communicates exactly what your children need to understand about you separating.
3. Talk to your children together. Having a unified front as parents at this time will help them to be less anxious than if you give conflicting stories. Even if you find it hard to get on, for the sake of your children show them during this discussion that they still have two parents and this is not their fault.
4. Make sure they know this is not their fault. But don’t blame it on each other, either. Remember that your kids love you both, even if you no longer love each other.
5. As best you can – be consistent. If you’re still figuring out living arrangements then let the kids know that. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Where you can, be specific about what’s going to happen next. They will be much less anxious if the expectations you give them become reality.
Getting a divorce is often stressful and difficult for everyone in the family.
At Divorce Lawyers Brisbane we focus on the best interests of the children. To speak to one of our experienced family lawyers, please contact us today. We offer a free, 10-minute phone consultation.