Talking About Divorce

Dear Sharon,

My six year old wants to know about his friend’s family getting a divorce. Do you have any advice as to how we describe it to him? He seems upset because his friend is upset and he also seems anxious about his Daddy and I, and we’d like to find a way to calm him as well as to assure him that our family is stable.

Dear Parent,

I am happy that your son is talking to you about his worries; things are often easier to sort through when children are willing to share their concerns and questions with Mom or Dad.

There are many ways parents can broach the subject of divorce with their young children here are a few suggestions.

It can be useful to talk to children about how friendships can change. Some parents I know have explained how there are times when people are friends for many years and other times when people start liking different things or just don’t have fun with each other any more. This explanation can be easier to understand if a child can remember a friendship that has changed for them.

Parents can also discuss that when Moms and Dads fight a lot with each other they usually know that the anger is not good for their children. Adult anger can increase fears and lower a child’s overall sense of well-being and security. A parent might say that when adults can’t figure out how to stop fighting they sometimes decide to live in separate houses. Living separately can be sad at first but be better for everyone in the long run because there is less tension and more time to play and have good times with Mom or Dad.

Sometimes divorce comes after a serious family hardship such as illness, forced relocation, unemployment, abuse or other difficulties. Whenever this is the case it can be good to tell a child that there are unusually difficult things going on in a particular family and that divorce might not be the only cause for a child’s upset.

As you mentioned, sometimes a friend’s divorce can spark lots of questions and concerns about how things are going at home. This unfortunate set of circumstances can actually become a good opportunity for a family to take stock of their relationships and take steps to improve them. For example, children might get to talk about overhearing a fight that scared them or ask questions about the particulars of their parent’s marriage. Parents might use the occasion to apologize for arguing or explain that fighting sometimes helps Mom and Dad figure out something that has been bothering them. They might also have the opportunity to tell their child how they met, how long they have been together, what they like about each other, or how well they get along. Talks such as these can help children feel closer and more connected to Mom and Dad.

When discussion of another couples divorce is “in the air” parents might also have the chance to express their love for each other and sort through ways to improve their relationship. That kind of effort is good for everyone.

Divorce is an unfortunate part of many marriages today. Here’s hoping that another family’s separation will help bring your family closer together.

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