Studies show that most children of divorce adjust well over time, with their academic, emotional, behavioural and social performance being comparable to their peers with married parents. This is true so long as your children feel both parents remain stable and loving figures in their lives. As a caring parent, you should do your best to ensure your children ease into this new family arrangement with the fewest negative repercussions possible. Read our blog post on How to Tell Your Children You’re Getting a Divorce if you have yet to break the news to your kids that you are separating. However, if you have already told your children about your divorce, then your next goal should be keeping the dialogue open and the topic of divorce approachable.
Going through a divorce is a highly emotional and confusing time, especially for children. They will likely have many questions running through their minds. They may be wondering:Going through a divorce is a highly emotional and confusing time, especially for children. They will likely have many questions running through their minds. They may be wondering:
What is divorce?
Why are you getting divorced?
Why don’t you love each other anymore?
Is it my fault?
Who will I live with?
Will I still get to see my siblings all the time?
The Best Approach to Answering Your Kids’ Questions
We have compiled several important considerations to keep in mind when talking to your children about your divorce :
1. Empathize Without Oversharing
Empathize and relate to the emotions your children are experiencing without oversharing any resentment you may be feeling towards your Ex. Sharing only what is necessary with your children will help them best understand their current situation without tarnishing their relationship with your Ex. This is very important in cases where you are co-parenting or have joint custody.
2. Answer Honestly
Be honest when answering your childrens’ questions so they can feel assured and informed as opposed to left in the dark. It is okay to admit that you do not know the answer to a question if that is the case. However, your response should indicate that it is something you and your Ex are still figuring out, but that you will let them know when you do.
3. Actively Listen
The best way to foster safe and open communication is to engage in active listening so as to unravel any underlying purpose behind your kids’ questions. Emotions may get in the way of your child articulating their needs. M.Gary Neuman, author of Helping Your Kids Cope with Divorce suggests that: “You can help your child by identifying the feelings that may be driving his questions and wrapping up your responses with reassuring messages that every child needs to hear".
Questions You Should Ask Your Kids
Many articles address the questions that your kids will ask you about divorce but it is important to remember that you should ask your children questions too. Keeping the dialogue open will show your children that you respect their feelings and take them into consideration when making decisions that influence your family.
1. Do you have any questions about the divorce?
This can be a good prompt to open up the discussion. From there be sure to actively listen to what your children may be wondering. Depending on their age, personality or relationship with you, they may not bring up any questions on their own. If they seem distressed, make an effort to check in with your kids when it seems appropriate so they know that they have a safe outlet in you as a parent.
2. How are you feeling?
Even if this question does not get the most articulate answer, it can get your child thinking about how they are experiencing and processing emotion right now. With some empathy and reassurance, you as a parent can help increase self-awareness of emotion and perhaps provide some insight into the confusion your child may be feeling.
3. How was your day?
Ask about their day in a respectful, non-intrusive way so your kids know that you are still a figure of emotional support and someone they can turn to regardless of the circumstances. Perhaps your child has another issue in their life at the moment that is bothering them. Do not let your divorce overshadow the personal concerns that your child may be experiencing.
4. Would you like to talk to a professional?
Bear in mind that your kids may carry some resentment or anger directed at either you or your Ex. Speaking to a therapist or counsellor may be a healthy way to make sense of how your divorce is affecting them. However, do not force professional help on your children or teens if they aren’t open to the suggestion. So long as they have a confidant or friend with whom they can openly discuss their feelings if needed and they seem to be processing the divorce in a healthy, non-destructive way then no professional help is needed. Though letting them know they have that option is reassuring nonetheless.