Divorce: Telling Children Ages 6 to 11
You and your partner are divorcing. No matter how tough the decision to divorce telling the children is often the most difficult part. Children ages six to eleven are especially difficult to communicate with about divorce. They understand more than toddlers. They can think and talk about their feelings with a somewhat less ego-centered view of themselves than younger children. However, divorce is a concept that children at this age continue to have a hard time fully grasping. Towards the end of this age, range children can assign blame and often see things in a black and white framework. This it is helpful for children to consider that the family is restructuring itself. It will be changing how the family looks and operates.
Support in the prepubescent stage
As children enter the prepubescent stage outside relationships become more important. Friends, teachers, coaches, and others start to enlarge the child’s support and sense of community. It is helpful to keep the children’s routines as close to the same as possible, making changes slowly.
Managing conflicts around your children
Managing conflict outside the range of the children is essential for their long-term well-being. The more you and your partner can maintain a united front, and manage the conflict through professionals the better off your children will be. Children pick up on much more than we often give them credit. Parents will often tell me their child knows absolutely nothing about what is going on. However, when I sit with the child they often are aware of exactly what is going on. So be honest but non-blaming, own responsibility for your part in things.
Children in this age range may show distress in the form of anxiety, irritability, or sadness. They miss the other parent and have hopes of reconciliation. Some children may blame themselves, or attempt to reunite their parents. It needs to be clear to the child that adult decisions are not caused or influenced by the child. You are the role model for how your child will manage their emotions. If you criticize your partner when you are upset then your children will learn that this is the way to regulate and manage their emotions. Change occurs over one’s lifetime and the more you are able to go with the flow the less suffering your children will endure because you will have taught them a valuable lesson, the acceptance of what is.
What about the environment outside the children’s home?
Fighting with your partner creates negative psychological changes in your child. Thus leaving your child short of resources to focus or cope with other problems that occur in the environment such as navigating friendships, school work, and the demands of a changing routine that occurs when a child’s parents are divorcing.
The right way to handle the situation
A strong relationship with both parents after the divorce when at all possible, along with good parenting, and minimal exposure to the conflict are the ingredients needed to raise a well-adjusted child. The hardest part is for the parents to deal with their emotions in a healthy manner, and carry these suggestions out for the welfare of their children. Too often parents use the children as a weapon to pick at the other parent continuing the unhealthy dance of criticism and defensiveness which played party to the demise of the relationship in the first place.
You need to tell them
Tell your children together with both parents. Keep it simple. Do not blame each other. Answer questions at an age appropriate level for the child. Do not use your child as a friend to talk about how you are feeling about the divorce or the other parent this is emotional incest and it is not healthy for them. Your children already have a job, it is called growing up. They are not your friend and you are not theirs. You are their parent, and that is what they need you to be. If you need to talk to someone call a friend, find a therapist, or your own parent but do not place your child in the position of having to choose between you and their other parent. They need you both and it is selfish to influence them in a negative way regarding their other parent.