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Explaining separation and divorce to children can help them cope

It is not unusual for parents to become caught up in their own personal anxiety caused by divorce. As separating parents work on the long-term legal issues of child custody, visitation and support, there must be, at some point, a discussion with their shared children about the adult choices being made.

These types of decisions often have a significant impact on the children involved and not fully preparing them for what happens after the divorce can make things even more difficult. But there are several factors parents should consider when sitting down with their children to explain the situation.

How children respond to divorce depends a great deal on how old the children are at the time parents separate. Younger children, who understand so little, often pattern responses after older siblings. Elementary-age children may exhibit sadness or extreme worry along with shock. Teenagers often choose denial to deflect unexpressed feelings of fear or anger.

For parents already under enormous pressure, a talk with children about divorce may be difficult. But it is necessary for children to grasp how divorce will affect them so that they can find a way to process their own feelings. It is best for parents to decide together how to explain the change, each remembering all the while that the complete details of disputes between divorcing parents may not be appropriate for children to hear.

Telling children that their parents no longer love one another can wound them, as kids are inextricably part of each parent and cannot be expected to try to divide their feelings between them. It is better to handle children's immediate feelings and questions before actual separation to give kids time to talk with each parent before the next hurdle.

Often, a concern for children is that everything will change. Soothing children's fears about moving away from a familiar home, school and friends is critically important when painting a hopeful, although changing, picture of the family's future can help kids understand and cope.

Source: Huffington Post online, "The Moment of Truth," Risa Garon, 29 April 2011

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