Info & Advice

How to tell your teenager about the divorce

For most children, the news that their parents are getting divorced comes as an unhappy shock. It means disruption, uncertainty and permanent change. If the other parent has already moved out it also means an end to any hopes the child may have harboured about their parents getting back together.

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Of course, age will have a big effect on the way children respond to the news. If they are too young to understand the concept of divorce, they might miss the other parent’s daily presence for a little while, but most will adapt to the new circumstances soon enough – as long as the familiar, comforting routines of daily life continue.

Older children, meanwhile, might understand some of the fundamentals, but their grasp of just what it all means will still be tenuous. Confusion and upset often mingle with worry that it was all somehow their fault, so your priority as a parent should be reassurance. Make sure they understand that while living arrangements may have changed, they still have two parents. The father or mother who has moved out will be back to see them regularly – and none of it is their fault!

But what about teenagers? Past the age of 13, telling your children will be a little easier. Teenagers are old enough to understand at least some of the adult complexities behind divorce. But they may still be feeling insecure and uncertain so it is still important to approach this often difficult topic carefully.

Be clear

Don’t leave room for teenage imaginations to run riot. As soon as things are in motion, spell out exactly what Mum and Dad splitting up means for them: what will change and what will stay the same – how it will affect their daily lives and how it won’t. Make sure they understand when and how often they’ll be seeing the other parent.

Be upbeat

Your teenager might put on a brave face, or do they best to console you, but an obviously upset parent will still be a disturbing discovery. His or her life still revolves around you and they still derive a sense of security from you as their mother or father. So, do your best to spare them any anxieties or anguish you may be feeling about the divorce or separation. Save that for your friends or therapist.

Don’t go into too much detail

Let your teenagers continue to enjoy a good relationship with the other parent – unless there’s a very good reason for them not to. Spare them messy adult realities like infidelity or arguments over money. If they do ask ‘why?’ offer something simple – for example, “we just don’t love each other anymore.’

Don’t criticise the other parent

Even if you are at loggerheads with your estranged spouse, resist the temptation to criticise him or her to your kids. Don’t openly blame them for the divorce. Even as teenagers, your children may hear this as a criticism of half of them – or they may try to please you by siding with your point of view entirely and begin distancing themselves from the other parent. Encouraging your child to reject their other parent is known as ‘parent alienation’, and it can be very damaging to their welfare and long-term happiness. Don’t do it!

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