If you’re currently going through the breakdown of a marriage or a long-term relationship, one of your biggest issues may be how to tell you children.
An Australian parenting expert has revealed why parents who are considering divorce should be open with their kids.
Dr Michael Carr-Gregg said there are many consequences kids face if parents avoid having an honest discussion about their planned marriage split.
‘If you don’t give them information, a couple of things can happen. The young ones can end up feeling responsible and blame themselves,’ he said.
Dr Carr-Gregg said a lack of transparency can also lead to children having ‘reunification fantasies’ – where they constantly live in a state of hoping and wishing their parents will reunite.
‘Of course, if you don’t give them any information, it increases their anxiety and increases their feelings of powerlessness,’ he added.
Dr Carr-Gregg’s comments come off the back of a recent report by the Australian Institute of Family Studies which found children often feel unhappy about how much input they have regarding decisions which affect them.
Many of the children aged 10 to 17 who were interviewed said their views were ignored or played down – even when it came to their living arrangements or abusive parents.
The report found children didn’t need to know everything – particularly regarding their parents’ potentially strong feelings of hatred towards one another – but they didn’t want to be left to fill in the gaps themselves.
Some didn’t want to be involved at all but were annoyed they were never asked.
Senior researcher Rachel Carson said well-intentioned attempts by parents and professionals to shield children from legal stoushes can actually harm them because they feel excluded.
‘The children and young people expressed a need for there to be a ‘genuineness’ in communication,’ Dr Carson said.
Dr Carr-Gregg also touched on the importance of not overburdening a child with information that wasn’t age appropriate.
He said parents should allow themselves to be guided by the curiosity of their child when responding to questions, and when dealing with younger kids to keep explanations as simple as possible.
How To Tell Your Kids About Your Divorce
Present a united front.You and your soon-to-be-ex should sit down with your children together and explain the situation. Even if the divorce isn’t a joint decision, it’s best to present it as such and to incorporate the word “we” as much as possible when explaining the decisions that have been made.
Address the entire family. Experts agree that it’s best to have this conversation with the entire family present and then to follow up with each child separately. But if you’re concerned that your older child is going to take the news hard or that her reaction will upset a younger child (after all, a school-age child understands the concept of divorce more than a toddler or preschooler does), you and your spouse may want to talk to each child individually.
Plan what you’ll say. This is not the sort of conversation that you improvise. It’s a good idea to come up with key messages that you think are important for your kids to hear.
Be open to questions. It will take time for your children to process how they feel. You should expect to have many more conversations with them as the separation and divorce proceed. “This first discussion is really a door opener to ongoing dialogue and questions between parent and child,” says psychologist William Doherty, Ph.D., director of the marriage and family therapy program at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul. Both you and your spouse should be open to answering questions and responding to your children’s emotional needs.
Maintain routines. In other words, keep them enrolled at the same school, encourage playdates with the same friends, drive them to the same after-school activities and sports, and so on.
Include a support system. Tell anyone else who needs to know, including teachers, babysitters, and friends’ parents. Let them know what’s happening and ask them to tell you if they see any unusual behavior.
Know when to ask for help. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or the kids seem to be having an especially hard time coping, find a therapist who can work with you, your spouse, and the kids together.