If you’re a child of divorce, and so many people are, or if you are a divorcing parent and are worried about how the divorce will affect your children, your concerns are valid. There’s no doubt about it: Divorce is extremely hard on children, regardless of age, but some ages are more prone to react badly to divorce than others. If you’re looking for some ideas about how to tell your kids about divorce, you’ve come to the right place.
If you have had difficulty coping with your divorce, imagine how hard it is on your kids. Life as they knew it is changed forever, regardless of how amicable the divorce is. Yes, non-contentious divorces may be less stressful for kids but no divorce is easy for children. All family members, especially small children, will go through a whirlwind of feelings and emotions, including sadness, anger, confusion, loss, and even guilt or shame. Helping kids with divorce must be a top priority for both parents and can even involve extended family including aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents.
What to Tell Kids About Divorce by Age Group
The website todaysparent.com has some great tips for telling kids in certain age groups about divorce.
Babies and toddlers will not be able to understand divorce, and while pre-schoolers begin to develop some independence, they are still highly dependent on their parents for everything. This age group is likely to develop inaccurate ideas about what has caused the divorce, and they might think a parent has left them instead of leaving Mom or Dad. According to todaysparent.com author, John Hoffman, “Preschoolers need simple, concrete explanations. Stick to the basics: which parent will be moving out, where the child will live, who will look after him and how often he’ll see the other parent.” Hoffman goes on to say that one conversation will not do the job, so parents must be prepared to have several short conversations on why one parent is leaving the home.
In the 6-11-year-old age group, children are better able to talk and think about their feelings. They have a broader, less egocentric view of their world, but they still have difficulty grasping difficult concepts like divorce. Nine to 11-year-olds develop an even greater sense of the world around them and have much more interaction with peers at school than younger kids. However, this age group does tend to see things in black or white, and they may be prone to assign blame for the split to one parent.
School-aged children often show stress as fear, anxiety, anger, or sadness, and some display more clear-cut signs of missing their absent parent. Parents need to explain to kids this age that it’s not their fault the parents are divorcing and that they have made an adult decision. Children need to hear that their parents love them very much at any age, but at this age, children will need to be re-assured it’s not their fault their parents are divorcing.
Twelve to 14-year-old children have the greatest capacity to understand the issues related to divorce and are able to take part in discussions about how the divorce will affect the family. According to todaysparent.com, “Keeping communication open decreases the chance that emotional problems slip under the radar.” While kids in this age group may be hard to reach and act like they don’t want to be reached, teens and preteens still need and crave connection with parents.” Even if your kids in this age group push you away, keep having the conversation about the divorce with them and find out what they want to talk about regarding the divorce. In this age group, irritability and anger are common; these are often targeted at the parent moving out of the home.