How to Support your Child Through Separation and Divorce

What to Tell Your Child — and How:

  • Don’t leave your child in the dark about what is happening. Fear of the unknown is far more difficult to a child than the actual reality. Tell him/her as much of the truth as he/she is able to deal with, and answer any questions he/she may have, as simply and honestly as you can. It helps if you can have the cooperation of your former partner when you tell your child about the marriage breakdown.
  • Whatever you think about your former partner and his/her behaviour, before and after the marriage breakdown, avoid the temptation to criticize or insult him/her when discussing him/her with your child. Remember, it’s his/her other parent you are talking about. If you question his/her’s love and loyalty toward the other parent, then he/she could end up resenting you.
  • Don’t confuse your child by sending out contradictory signals about how you are feeling with regard to the situation. Make sure that what you say matches up to how you say it. For example, if you are upset and your child asks “why?”, don’t say “nothing.” This can only confuse and upset the child.
  • No matter who contributed the most to the breakdown of your marriage, try not to dwell on feelings of anger, guilt or revenge. Put the past behind you and concentrate on building a new and better life for yourself and your child.
  • Remember the best parts of your marriage and share them with your child. The past couldn’t have been all bad and it is important that your child knows the good times.
  • Don’t demand loyalty from your child to the point of excluding his/her other parent from the child’s thoughts and life. If you ask your child to choose between you, he/she may reject you both.
  • Even if you know that there is no chance of reconciliation with your former partner, don’t expect your child to accept the finality of your divorce/separation as soon as you do. Children often hide a secret hope that their parents will get back together.
  • Work on establishing a new relationship with your former partner. Anger between parents will be far more harmful to the child than the actual divorce/separation.
  • Do not label your single-parent home a “broken” home. The word broken implies that is an imperfect, deficient, wrong kind of home, which communicates to children that there is something bad about themselves since they live in such a home. Call it a “readjusted” home instead, one that allows for ongoing loving relationships between the children and your ex-spouse, even though your ex-spouse is no longer living with you. In Robert Frost’s words, home is “the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”
  • Recognize that your children’s fundamental need for security after a divorce remains the same as it was during the time you were married. Your children, above else, need to feel that Mom and Dad will always provide them with the emotional and physical security they need to develop into confident, well adjusted adults. Their security does not depend on your income or the place you live, but on whether you and your ex-spouse demonstrate by your behaviour in your divorce that both of you are fully competent to cope with and get through the changes that come with divorce and separation.

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