Communicating with children during divorce

About 15 million American children have experienced divorce in their families, according to an article published by the Alliance for Parents and Families. As such, many parents face the challenge of talking with their children about divorce.

Being honest

Children are bound to be rattled when they learn their parents are getting a divorce. Amid all the emotions, they need something stable to hold onto. They need to know they can count on mom and dad, and if parents are deceitful in talking with them, children will cease to trust them.

Some children are not old enough to understand everything, and some things should remain private between the ex-spouses, but parents can be diplomatic and discreet while not telling lies. It is not necessary for parents to reveal every detail, just to be honest about what they do say.

The simplest answer to a child's question is often the best. For example, if there is a complicated story of extramarital affairs, a young child doesn't need to hear the whole story. It may be enough to say that someone was the parent's friend for a while, and now they don't get along any more.

Seeing the child's point of view

While divorce is hard on adults, children experience major losses. They lose the family structure they are familiar with as well as the image of their parents as they have known them. Some children may lose friends if they must relocate and change schools, and most children will lose their familiar routines. Basically, life can feel less secure.

While parents may struggle to rebuild their changing lives, they must be careful to keep open the lines of communication with their children so they don't feel abandoned or feel that they are burdening their parents.

Reassuring children

As much as a parent may feel like bad-mouthing the other parent to the children, that is a tactic that must be resisted. Children love their parents, and hearing one parent denigrating the other is painful and creates conflict for a child.

The best course of action for a parent to take is to say positive things about the other parent as much as possible. If a parent needs to vent, the appropriate ears to hear the negative emotions are not the children's.

If parents can hold fast to just two simple principles-tell the truth, briefly, and build up the other parent for the child's sake-acting on these principles will do wonders for helping children as they adjust to divorce.

California parents who need advice about the mechanics of divorce should talk with an experienced family law attorney. While attorneys are usually not also experts in child development or child psychology, an attorney who specializes in family law may know of resources for parents about talking with and supporting their children through the process.