The Hardest Conversations: Talking Divorce with Your Kids

Talking About Divorce with the Kids: From Childhood to Adulthood

According to a recent article in Science magazine, gossip and gossiping can start as early as five years old. Children this age were able to discuss and pass judgment on the behavior of a third party. That means that even very young children are vulnerable to the damage that speaking badly of a parent can do. And what’s more, they’ll pass it on.

This is a chilling finding for those parents who think their children are happily oblivious. But even if you’re being careful about what you’re saying in front of your child, you must also consider other people’s loose lips. If a classmate of your child’s—even a young one—hears gossip at home about your ex, and that gossip makes it back to the school yard, your child may pay the price.

So, exactly when, where and how can we effectively talk about divorce with our children?

My guest this week is Dr. Mark Banschick, child psychologist with training from Georgetown University and New York Presbyterian Hospitals, expert witness in custody disputes, author of The Intelligent Divorce: Taking Care of Your Children, and writer for Psychology Today. He has been featured on the CBS Early Show and quoted in The New York Times, CNN and USA Today. He recently launched a comprehensive online course, Intelligent Divorced Parenting to help parents deal more effectively with divorce even when confronted with a difficult former spouse.

Keep Your Confidence Close

The first and most important rule for school-aged children is to do what you can to prevent them from hearing about it at school or on the playground. That goes for older children, too. It’s critical that you control the message, that you, as parents, communicate this family news to their children.

It’s Not Their Fault

No matter how you break the news to a child, they are likely to think it’s “all their fault”. This is simply the nature of children. They have an overdeveloped sense of their effect on the world. But it’s important for you, as a parent, to reassure them (repeatedly) that they are actually not at fault and they are not a part of the decision to divorce.

Respect is Key

The key, according to Dr. Banschick, is to explain and exhibit the respect the divorcing parents have for each other. You can tell your child that you still respect and even love your ex as a parent.

How the Narrative Changes Over the Years

As a child grows up, they may need to know more about the divorce and what happened in their early years. Here’s where you should be flexible, according to Dr. Banschick. As 20-somethings, they may need to ask questions about dots that didn’t seem to connect when they were younger, mature questions about respect, freedom and fidelity. In their 30s, perhaps as parents themselves, children of divorce may need to understand better where their parents’ breaking point was and understand what you did to remain close to them.

The good thing is that parents who have appropriate and open conversations with their children will likely have close relationships throughout their lives.

This series with Dr. Banschick is more than just a review of an expert’s tips. In many ways, it will be a guide to how you can successfully navigate divorce with children in the kindest and most productive way.

If you’re considering divorce but would like to try an approach that might mean a brighter future, call my team to schedule a confidential consultation.