Children cope with divorce differently depending on how it’s been presented and explained to them at home. Unfortunately, as a school counselor, we have very little control over these initial interactions making it difficult to talk about divorce to our students.
So when a family comes to us for help talking to their children about divorce, we have to meet them where they are.
Some students may not be comfortable talking about their parents’ divorce, and others may open up even more to you, as a school counselor, than they would to their parents.
No matter where the student is emotionally, the most important thing to do is support the child and give them tools to manage their feelings about the situation.
And if you have the opportunity to work with the entire family, you may even find yourself providing tips for parents to keep the peace at home.
Here are some tips on how to help parents talk to their children about divorce:
Remind Parents to Stay on the Same Team
When you’re working with families during a divorce, it’s important to encourage parents to stay on the same team.
This can be hard for some families due to animosity surrounding the ultimate decision to divorce. And while divorces aren‘t always a mutual decision, parents need to demonstrate that there is still a we and not just I.
This helps children see the family as a unit, rather than a broken home with two sides.
Encouraging parents to demonstrate unity by using the words we and us go hand-in-hand with allowing their children to remain a neutral party.
Again, this may be difficult for some families, but it is in the child’s best interest to allow them to love both of their parents without “throwing each other under the bus.”
The last thing parents should teach their children is guilt for loving both of their parents.
Infuse Normality When You Talk About Divorce
Parents know that they’re not the first couple to divorce, but children may feel as though they’re alone in their feelings and what they’re experiencing.
What’s worse, they may also lose self-esteem or even become the victim of bullying.
Encourage parents to remind their children that they’re normal, other children have gone through divorces, and how they’re feeling is completely normal.
It’s Not Their Fault and They Shouldn’t Try to Fix It
Often, children have trouble comprehending the reasons behind a divorce, and sometimes they don’t know (or shouldn’t know) the reasons, depending on their age.
So the fallback is to blame themselves.
They may think they did something to cause the split. So, it’s up to the parents to remind them that they’ve done nothing wrong, and it’s not the child’s responsibility to fix the marriage.
Most importantly, children need their parents to remind them that the love they have for them doesn’t change just because they are splitting up.
Encourage Parents to Listen and Talk About Divorce
In some divorces, it may be difficult to talk about what is happening (for the parents). But children need to be able to express their feelings and ask questions to cope with the change.
Encouraging parents to take time to listen to their child, if they want to talk, goes a long way in helping their child develop healthy social-emotional skills through this difficult time.