We are pleased to present a guest post by Sue Soler, LCSW-C, a master’s level social worker with over fifteen years experience working with children and families. Sue works both as a a divorce coach and as a child specialist with families who are going through the process of Collaborative Divorce . As a divorce coach, Sue works with parents who are undergoing divorce to strengthen communication skills, manage emotions, and create goals that address their and their family’s needs . As a child specialist, she serves as an advocate for children, assessing their needs to assist parents in developing plans that meet the needs of the whole family. Sue also serves as a mediator for families undergoing separation or divorce, and helps parents develop creative options to address their family’s needs. Please see Sue’s contact information at the bottom of the post.
Parents who are in a separation or divorce process often feel understandable feelings of overwhelm and trepidation about telling their children what is happening. Still, children greatly benefit when they receive accurate and clear information; without facts, they may answer their own questions and fill the void with inaccuracies and assumptions.
Each family’s conversation will be unique and individual. However, there are some general tips that will apply to all families preparing for this dialogue. Here are some of them:
- Plan the conversation in advance and decide which parent will say what in the conversation.
- Have the conversation together so both parents are presenting the same information and children do not feel caught in the middle.
- Keep your own feelings of anger, hurt, betrayal, ambivalence, and blame out of the conversation.
- Keep the conversation short and age appropriate.
- Practice the conversation prior to having it so the words feel as comfortable as possible.
- It is ok to be somewhat emotional during the conversation but it is important to contain your emotions so that your children see you as a parent who will survive this change.
- Consider when to tell your children in relation to when the actual changes will take place. Some children need more time to process information than others. Some children will be anxious knowing this information without actual changes. Consider your own child’s needs.
- Include statements about what is happening (e.g. mommy and daddy have decided to live in two separate homes) and discuss whether you want to use the words separation and divorce.
- Explain the housing situation in an age-appropriate way, to include where each parent will live and any details about the homes (e.g. distance apart, bedroom set-up).
10. Do not make promises you are not 100% sure you can deliver. Although there is an urge to reassure children with promises about staying in the same school district or house, unless you are sure this will happen, do not promise this to your child.
11. Let your children know this is not their fault and there is nothing they can do to change what is happening.
12. Consider giving children an explanation as to why you are separating or divorcing (e.g. we have been arguing a lot lately and have been unable to resolve our problems after working very hard). It is not recommended that parents share the intimate details of why the separation or divorce, information about possible affairs, or information that one parent wants the separation or divorce and the other parent does not.
13. Remind your children that you both will always love them and take care of them as their parents.
14. Let your children know what will stay the same (e.g. school, friends, activities) and what will be different (e.g. you will see dad on these days and mom on these days).
15. Let your children know that they may have a range of feelings, and that you want them to feel comfortable feeling a variety of emotions (e.g. sadness, anxiety, excitement, relief).
16. Resist the understandable urge to tell your children “everything will be fine”. It can feel dismissive of the child’s feelings and may negate your desire for your child to feel free to express their own emotions.
17. Anticipate that your children may ask questions you are not prepared to answer. A safe and appropriate response is that the child has asked a good question and the parents will talk about it and get back to him/her. Then, it is important to follow through with this and get back to the child with a response in a timely way.
This initial conversation is the beginning of an on-going dialogue with your children about the separation or divorce. As children grow older, process feelings, and have new experiences, their questions change. It is best for children if parents are open to talking as their children evolve.
For further assistance during this challenging transitional period, you and your family may benefit from a consultation with a mental health professional that specializes in separation and divorce.
-Posted by Sue Soler
Ms. Soler can be reached at 301-461-8688 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read more about Sue and her work at http://www.collaborativedivorcemd.com/members/profiles/susan-soler.php