Divorce is seldom easy for anyone involved, but when there are young children, it can be much more difficult. That is because the effects of divorce on children are unique, and they differ quite widely according to the child's age. If you are facing a divorce and want to know how to approach the topic with young children, there are a few best practices that are well-supported by research.
Communication is essential
According to an article posted by the Michigan State University Extension, the key to helping young children understand and process the changes that happen during a divorce is communication. Depending on the age of the child, her or his level of understanding might be fairly limited. By openly discussing what is happening and why without assigning blame, it is easier for children to come to terms with those changes. The best results occur when parents communicate with the children together, and these tips can help things go more smoothly:
- Have both parents get on the child's level by sitting on the floor or furniture with the kids.
- Avoid oversharing the adult's story and focus on explaining the changes that will happen and what they mean.
- Discussions about the legal process or about custody arrangements should not happen in front of kids-in fact, terms like "custody" or "legal" should not even be used around them.
- Remember to explain that the divorce is not your children's fault and that nothing they could do would have changed the outcome of the process.
How Understanding Changes With Age
Depending on the exact age of your young children, they may be more or less prepared to deal with certain concepts surrounding divorce. Parents magazine provides a thorough breakdown of how age changes that understanding. Here are the highlights:
- Infants and babies to 18 months of age can detect tensions in the household but have no ability to understand the reasons for them or the ways they resolve.
- Toddlers, those aged 18 months to three years old, typically have almost all their social bonds with parents, which can make these children particularly susceptible to guilt over a divorce.
- Between the ages of three and six, children maintain the tendency to blame themselves for their parents' separation if they are not helped to understand otherwise, and they might experience nightmares or other symptoms of distress.
If you are going through a divorce that involves children, you need to know how to communicate with them about the upcoming changes. You also need to know how to protect yourself, which is why having the right divorce attorney is important.