Discussing Divorce

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Dr. Robyn Silverman offers seven tips for how to talk to your child about divorce.

{Part 1 of our 2-part series on Kids and Divorce}

Our mission at The Mother Company is to address with insight the social and emotional issues that families face daily. For many parents, divorce is a big one.  How exactly do you have that first conversation with your child to explain that you and your spouse are splitting? And how do you do it in such a way that helps your child feel loved and secure? Helping us walk through the basics of this emotionally charged issue is frequent Mother Company contributor and child development specialist, Dr. Robyn Silverman. When you know it’s time to tell the kids, Dr. Robyn has seven tips for turning that first talk about divorce into a healthy, supportive dialogue you can all benefit from. –Jacqueline, TMC Producer

Tip 1: Check Your Emotional State

Since the goal of this first conversation about divorce is to make your child feel loved and secure with his place in both your lives, when it’s time for the talk, it is important to make sure that you are calm as possible. Anger, bitterness and sadness are normal emotions to experience when you are getting a divorce, but in this conversation, you need to keep these negative emotions at bay.  Children are perceptive and no matter what actual words you say, your child will pick up on your tone. If you need to, go for a walk or talk to a friend to help you cool off before sitting down with your child.

Tip 2: Find a Comfortable Place to Talk

Your child really needs to hear and be able to focus in on what you’re telling him, and your choice of venue should reflect this. In other words, sitting in the middle of a crowded restaurant is probably not a good idea. Look for a place, likely in your own home, that is free from distraction. It should also be a safe place for your child to react emotionally to the news.

Tip 3: Let Your Child Know It’s Not Her Fault

Even when children are very young, they can still have a knee-jerk reaction that they somehow caused the rift between their parents–or that there is something they can do to get their parents back together. Address this head on in this initial conversation by reassuring your child, without first being asked, that nothing he or she did made the two of decide to divorce. Likewise, gently underscore to your child that there is also nothing he or she can do to get the two of you back together.

Tip 4: Keep the Conversation General

When the words, “mommy and daddy are getting a divorce,” come out of your mouth, no matter how much emotional turmoil you may be feeling at that moment, avoid the temptation to go into the detailed reasons why. Spare your child the accusations of adultery or unresponsiveness (or whatever your issues are) and keep the focus on how this change will be one that ultimately benefits all of you. Phrases like, “mommy and daddy will be happier living apart”,  “there will be less fighting now” and “we will both see you and both still love you to pieces” are good phrases to employ for fostering a child’s sense of security. It’s fine to cuddle your child or give him space–just follow his cues.

Tip 5: One Step at a Time

It’s enough to learn that one parent will be moving to another house. It could be down the road that you will need to sell your home and move, but this is not the time to bring up these types of changes. Your child will be feeling insecure enough and this information overload is not necessary. (Also know that for your child’s sake, you are almost always better off staying in the same house and keeping as many as the same routines as possible to provide a sense of consistency in your child’s changing life.)

Tip 6: Respect Their Emotions

Children can feel like the parent who is moving out doesn’t love them anymore. Take great care to make sure your child hears the message from both of you: your love for your child is not changing. Even when one parent is moving to another house, the love is still there and will always be there. If your child is angry, respect the strength of her emotions and don’t try to tell her how to feel. Simply saying, “We know this is difficult and we’re here for you when you’re ready to talk” can be a good way to diffuse this situation while still validating a child’s feelings.

Tip 7: You Both Need to Be There

This one is almost an a non-negotiable: no matter how bad it is between the two of you right now, you both should be present during this conversation. Let your child know he can talk to each of you separately, afterwards, if he needs to. I know it’s not easy, but think of it this way: this is one of the first decisions the two of you will need to make as divorcing parents, so make sure it is the right one.

Dr. Robyn Silverman is a child development specialist, sought-after speaker and award-winning writer known for her no-nonsense yet positive approach to helping young people and their families thrive. Dr. Silverman has been a repeat featured expert on The Today Show, Good Morning America, CBS Early Show, Nightline, The Tyra Show, NBC’s LXtv, Fox News, NPR, and more. For more information, visit www.drrobynsilverman.com.

The Mother Company aims to support parents and their children, providing thought-provoking web content and products based in social and emotional learning for children ages 3-6. Check out the first episode of our children’s series, Ruby’s Studio: The Feelings Show,” which helps kids identify, express, and move through their feelings. We want to be a parenting tool…  For you!

Posted in: Divorce, Expert Advice, Divorce, Learn, Tough Topics