All Woman

How to break the news of your divorce to your children

By NADINE WILSON All Woman writer wilsonn@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, September 17, 2012    

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NOT all families last, unfortunately, but when divorce comes knocking, children are most often the ones left in the middle of the battleground between parents whose primary focus often becomes severing all ties.

Local child psychiatrist and co-author of Caught in the Middle, Dr Pauline Milbourn Lynch, noted that children of all ages are affected by the separation of their parents and in some cases may even carry the hurt associated with their parents' divorce into adulthood.

After conducting studies with children from both middle class and inner-city families that have gone through divorce, she concluded that children use various strategies to cope with the process. She noted that some children blame themselves, while others tend to divert from the expected behaviour of those who have been affected by the separation of parents or divorce.

"The child will become the perfect child and that is atypical because we tend to overlook them and think that they are OK, but you will see a change in the behaviour where the parents do not have to argue with them, they are well behaved, and those children, it is as if they are holding it together by a thread and oftentimes a small or a minor event can just trigger an outburst," she said.

To minimise trauma to your children, it is important that you and your partner talk to them about your pending divorce and re-assure them of your love for them. Minimise anxiety by being civil and respectful to each other and take into consideration your children's concerns. Here are a few tips for breaking the news to your children that you are getting a divorce.

1. Break the news to them together.

No matter how much you hate each other, your child needs to know that your decision was a mutual one. It also results in less confusion as your child will only hear one version of the story. If it's difficult to talk to each other, you could get a mediator to help you come to a decision about the details you will share with your child.

2. Avoid the blame game.

Avoid the tendency to point out who is the cause for the divorce. This could result in the meeting becoming a screaming match as each will try to argue why the other person is at fault. This bickering will no doubt make your child anxious about the prospects for their future.

3. Provide specific details about the changes that are likely to occur.

Explain to your child as best as possible issues such as their living arrangements and other changes that will take place in their life. Will they have to move to a different house? Will they only see one of you on weekends? Have answers to all these questions.

4. Censor your words.

Your child doesn't need to know that his father or mother is conniving and worthless. Make the discussion age-appropriate and free from insults. Instead, reassure your child that everything will be okay.

5. Answer questions truthfully.

Children are more perceptive than adults often believe, and so they might just pick up on cracks in your story. So be honest while relaying the new living arrangements and other details to them. Dodging questions will only make them more suspicious and anxious.

6. Get their feedback.

Allow your child to share their emotions and ask them for suggestions on how you can make their life comfortable. They might react to the news by crying or becoming angry; either way, it is important that you allow them to grieve on their own terms.

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