When I was going through my divorce, I didn’t know what to say to my kids. I was doing my best to protect them so I didn’t share much with them about the divorce. I assumed they would open up to me if they needed to talk. Knowing what I do now, I would do things differently. Following are some key points to help kids open up during divorce.
1. Start things off with honest communication.
How you are going to communicate with your children during divorce starts when you tell them about the divorce. It’s important to tell them together - with both parents if possible - without blaming either parent. You don’t have to give too many details, but answer their questions as they come up.
Kids are focused primarily on themselves and mostly care about how the divorce will impact them. They’re typically not thinking about their parents’ feelings too much.
You can give them information like:
It’s so important to be available to your kids when they want to talk. You can intentionally create situations where they’re relaxed such as when you’re driving in the car or before they go to bed. Here are some ways to encourage them to open up with you:
Kids live in the present moment - they’re much better at doing that than adults. When they don’t like what’s happening, they may say hurtful things to their parents. Try not to get caught up in the things they say during a stressful moment. They may seem extremely upset one day, but that doesn’t mean it’s how they’re going to feel the next day or next week. Do your best to let little things go and not to take it personally. As a parent, it’s devastating to know they’re hurting, but kids are very resilient. Their moods will not last forever.
However, there are times that you should consider reaching out for help. There are some clues to show if your child is simply upset and processing their feelings or if they are having deeper struggles. Here are some examples:
These behavior changes are signals that your child isn’t coping well with the divorce and may need extra help from a counselor or professional.
The great news is that the most stressful parts of your divorce will not last forever, and that there are clear ways to keep the lines of communication open with you and your children. Many times, parents can have even deeper relationships with their kids after divorce when the strain of the marriage isn’t a part of the parent/child relationship. In the meantime, these strategies can give you a positive direction for how to get your kids to open up.
Jill Barnett Kaufman, MSW, LCSW and Certified Parent Educator is an experienced clinician who helps clients discover new ways to resolve a variety of challenges and bring more happiness and peace into their lives.