I've written on this subject before, but it's worth repeating.
Children are not miniature adults.
They have different cognitive and emotional needs. Divorce affects them in profoundly different ways from how it affects you and me. Try hard to minimize the amount of change a divorce causes in your child’s life.
Until the mid-teenage years, most children don’t have the cognitive ability to understand divorce. What they understand is physical separation. For them, a parent moving out of the house is the key event. Make sure your children are not present when a parent leaves. It can be a devastating memory that will haunt them for years to come.
If possible, work with your spouse to explain to the children (in a neutral, nonjudgmental way) what is happening to them. Research suggests that nearly one quarter (25%) of all children from divorced families receive no explanation for why a parent suddenly moves out of the house.
As a general rule, tell the kids what is happening sooner rather than later. Once a divorce is reasonably certain, you’re probably at the point where you need to have a conversation. Children are extremely perceptive. They know when something is wrong. Most parents make the mistake of waiting too long to explain what is happening. You don’t want your children to hear the news from someone else.
Maintain routines. Don’t do any of the following without talking to your attorney first:
- Changing schools;
- Changing living environments; or
- Stopping regular activities.
Take advantage of the time you do have with your children. One of the common complaints kids have after divorce is that their parents don’t spend enough time with them. Schedule your adult activities for times when you don’t have the kids.
Don’t air your dirty laundry. It’s not acceptable to burden your children with the reasons for your divorce. Children’s identities are linked to both parents. If one parent is attacked, it is natural for them to run to that parent’s defense.
If you are looking for more information about how divorce affects children, check-out one of the following books:
Preschool and Elementary Age:
Brown, Laurie and Marc, Dinosaurs Divorce A Guide for Changing Families, New York, NY, Hachette Book Group, 1986.
Lansky, Vicki, It's Not Your Fault, Koko Bear, Minnetonka, MN, Book Peddlers, 1998.
Rogers, Fred, Let's Talk About It: Divorce, New York, Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers, 1996.
Thomas, Pat, My Family's Changing A first Look at Family Break-up, Hauppage, NY Barrens, 1999.
Tweens and Teens:
Buscemi, Karen, Split in Two: Keeping It Together When Your Parents Live Apart, San Francisco, Orange Avenue Publishing, 2009.
Ford, Melanie, Annie, Steven and Jann, My Parents are Divorced Too, Washington, DC, Magination Press, 2006.
Gallagher, Mary Collins, Ginny Morris and Mom's House Dad's House, Washington, DC, Magination Press, 2005.
Heegaard, Marge, When Mom and Dad Separate, Children Can Learn to Cope With Grief from Divorce, Minneapolis, MN Woodland Press. 1991.
Holyoke, Nancy, A Smart Girl's Guide to Her Parents' Divorce, Middleton, WI, American Girl Publishing Inc, 2009.
Schab, Lisa, The Divorce Workbook for Teens, Instant Help Books, Oakland CA, 2008.