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Divorce: How to talk to (and protect) younger and older kids

When you first realized your marriage was headed for divorce, you may have immediately begun to worry how such events might negatively impact your children. While a divorce is primarily an adult issue, it affects far more people than just the two spouses involved -- especially children.

It's understandable that you'd want to protect your children's innocence and not give them more information than they are mature enough to handle. That's why what you say to one of your children may be different from another, depending on their ages. Like most good parents, you want what is best for your kids and you do not wish your relationship problems to impede their ability to live joyful lives. The good news is that there are strong support systems already in place to help you help your children adapt to new lifestyles in the healthiest, least-stressful manner possible.  

If you have babies, toddlers or preschoolers at home 

Most kids, especially those in the younger age groups, are naturally resilient and adaptable. The following list includes things to keep in mind when preparing to try to explain divorce to your little ones: 

  • Toddlers and babies do not have the capability to understand complex situations. 
  • Younger children cannot always differentiate between reality and imagination.
  • Your toddler or preschooler does not have the ability to grasp the concept of the future.
  • Young children experience a range of emotion but may lack the skills needed to express themselves. Understanding that your kids are still mostly dependent on you for their care, you can help them by providing simple explanations as questions arise or circumstances change. When child custody and visitation matters come up, it's critical that they feel safe and provided for.  

Older kids need love and support as well 

Never assume that just because your kids are teenagers they will not be affected by your divorce. Your preteen and teenage children may show sadness, anger, frustration or regression in reaction to news that you and their other parent are no longer going to be married. These are ways you can help them cope

  • Be prepared to face rebellion or to have your children question your authority. 
  • Recognize their increasing desire for independence and allow them to make some decisions on their own. 
  • Realize that while teens and preteens understand far more than smaller children, they may still have a lot of questions about upcoming changes in their lives. 
  • Your children may need outside support as they learn to move on in life post divorce.  

Every situation is different

If you and your spouse are both willing to cooperate and compromise for your children's sake, you can be confident that they will be OK, even though there may be bumps along the way. However, if your ex is trying in any way to impede your parent/child relationships or refuses to adhere to a court order, there are immediate steps you can take to rectify such problems. Knowing how to protect your rights and your children's best interests is key to post-divorce success.

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