In this article, the author – Alan Larkin, a family law solicitor at Family Law Partners LLP in Brighton and more than 15 years of experience in the field – looks at how to communicate with the children in connection with divorce and separation.
This article is a must read for any parent who is contemplating or going through a divorce or separation.
Once the decision has been taken to divorce or separate, just as when the action has been taken, of the most difficult things is for parents to communicate the message in an appropriate way to the children.
It is important that they understand that they are in no way at fault and that mum and dad will do their best to avoid involving them or disrupt their daily life as much as possible.
The following bullet point advice is based on combined more than 50 years of experiences between my partners and I.
What should we tell our children about the divorce or separation?
- Although Mum and Dad will not be living together anymore we will never stop loving you.
- We know this will be hard for you and we are sorry.
- It is all right for you to love Mum and Dad.
- It is all right for you to ask Mum and Dad questions.
- None of this is your fault.
- We will always be there for you.
- You will now have two families: one with Mum and one with Dad.
- You will have a home with Mum and a home with Dad.
How should we tell them?
- First of all, plan what you both want to say to them. Agree what will be said.
- If possible, meet with the children together so they can hear the same messages from the two of you. However, if your relationship with your spouse or partner is not an easy one, then it may be better to see the children separately.
- Keep any explanations straightforward. Do not attribute blame to each other.
- Try and see things from your children’s point of view and anticipate their concerns. (See “What sorts of questions will the children ask?” below)
- Help each other to manage your feelings in front of the children.
- Acknowledge to the children that this will be a difficult time for them. Do not try to sweep their feelings or questions ‘under the carpet’.
- Tell them they can ask questions.
- Tell them it is fine to talk about how they feel.
- Keep discussions straightforward and allow for their age and relative maturity.
What sorts of questions will the Children ask us?
- They may want to know how often they will see each parent.
- Or they may ask where they will live.
- They may ask if any of this is their fault or if there is anything they can do to keep Mum and Dad together.
How can I show my children that they are important?
- Give children your full attention when they are talking to you.
- Listen to your child and do not discourage them from expressing their feelings even if you find what they are saying to be upsetting or if it makes you uncomfortable.
- Acknowledge what they are saying “I can see this is really hard for you...”
- Don’t be afraid to get professional support.
- If your child isn’t ready to talk then do not force them. Tell them they can talk to you any time they feel ready.
How can I reduce the impact of the divorce on my Children?
- Remember that our children will remember what is said to them, whether they think it is good or bad. So take care with what is said and, again, try to anticipate how you will respond to the questions or concerns they are likely to raise.
- At this time of stress the children may suffer from a lack of self-esteem or self-confidence. Try to counteract this by praising them whenever possible. A commonly agreed approach by experts is to make sure your children hear four positive statements for every one negative remark to make up for the impact of negative comments. This can be summarised as a 4 to 1 ratio of positive to negative statements.
Is it true that we should avoid showing our children any conflict at all?
- In general terms, yes. However, there is likely to be some conflict in the early days of the separation or divorce. Some experts suggest that it is not the signs of conflict between parents that can be damaging for children but rather, the parents’ inability to resolve that conflict.
- Do try to avoid full-blown, heated arguments in front of the children.
- It is not a good idea to discuss matters at handover time if there is likely to be conflict as the children will be particularly sensitive at this time. It is better to arrange specific times to meet to discuss difficult issues or use email to outline the issues and record agreements.
I’m still really angry with my ex-partner. Why do I find it so hard to ‘move on’?
If it was your partner’s decision to end the relationship then your feelings may still be raw. You will be finding it very difficult to accept what has happened. The anger you are feeling may help get you through the first difficult days or weeks but it is not a helpful long-term state for you or your children. If you feel, after some months have passed that you are ‘stuck’ with this anger then you should consider seeking professional help such as counseling to help you come to terms with the end of your relationship.
Why should I bother trying to maintain a relationship with my ex?
- Your intimate and loving relationship may have ended but your relationship as parents will continue. Your children will benefit from seeing that the important adults in their lives can still communicate with each other.
- Your relationship with your ex and the behaviors that you demonstrate to your children are likely to be copied by them in their future relationships.
- Try to show respect for your ex – your children still love them.
Please also note that this material is made available as informative material only and that it does not in any way or form constitute legal advice.