What Not To Say to Your Kids During a Divorce
Divorce can be difficult on children. The only home and family they’ve ever known seem to be falling apart, which can leave them feeling vulnerable and frightened. In the midst of dealing with your own feelings, you may feel helpless to assist your children with theirs.
Recently, a list was released of 15 things kids want their parents to know during traumatic times like divorce. These include remembering that your children can “read” your stress, and that it’s important to listen without judgment and to let them come to their own conclusions about each parent and about any new “significant others” you or their other parent may bring into their lives.
Sometimes, it is difficult to know just what to say. However, it is often easy to keep in mind what not to say. Here are five things to avoid saying to your kids during a divorce (and what to say instead):
- “It’s going to be fine.” Your instinct may be to reassure your children. You may even believe these words yourself. However, studies show that this blanket reassurance can make it harder for children to trust adults who say it – because, to them, nothing is okay. Instead, ask “How are you feeling?” and listen when they want to talk.
- “Stop worrying about it.” Questions like where your child will live and which school they will attend are big worries: they change a child’s entire life. Instead, offer to include your child in this decision-making process: “I don’t know if we’ll have to move, but if we do, I’ll give you plenty of warning and you can help me pick out a house and look at schools.”
- “Who do you want to live with?” While honoring your child’s preferences may be vitally important to you, putting this question to young children can often make them feel like they’re being asked to declare which parent they love “more.” When in actuality, kids just want to love both of you fairly and equally and not have you think that their love for you diminishes their love for the person you once promised to love “forever'”. So instead of placing such a heavy burden on your child’s already overloaded shoulders, if custody comes up, try explaining instead, “We haven’t made that decision yet, but the judge will help us make the best decision for you.”
- “Tell me about your mother/father” – While it is natural to care for your child’s well-being while they are away from you, asking them questions about the other parent’s home or grilling them about what goes on there puts unnecessary stress onto the child, who is already wrestling with conflicting loyalty issues as it is. Children do not live with you to provide information about what the other parent is doing, and it may feel unfair to them to have to report or “tattle” on the other parent. Children want their parents to realize that “Yes, when I’m with you, I do miss my other parent but that does not diminish my love for you”. So instead, try to encourage a healthy relationship between your child and the other parent. Being the bigger person, and actually speaking respectfully of your ex-spouse when your child is venting can help your child to feel safe opening up to you. Knowing that just because your child may be judging the other parent harshly in the moment, doesn’t mean that they are ready to hate them forever can foster a healthy relationship between you and your child as well, who may just be looking for someone to talk to in the moment.
- “Let me tell you what really happened“- As much as you may want to explain yourself to your child, or to justify some of the decisions you have made, you need to remember that your children do not need to know your side of what happened in an argument or to be the courier carrying sensitive messages back and forth between you and your ex-spouse. Children don’t have the coping abilities of an adult, so asking them to deal with such adult issues is unhealthy when all they can really do is channel your stress together with theirs. If tensions are running high between you and your ex-spouse, consider getting a psychologist to help you come up with a plan on how to break sensitive news to your children.
Divorce can make you feel like your life is out of control. Fortunately, you can control how you communicate with your children during this difficult time, which in turn can help them weather the divorce process with greater resilience. To learn more, contact attorney Lois Garber Schwartz to schedule a consultation.
The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney/client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.