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Young children usually respond to hurtful situations with sadness. But when they're nine or older, prepare yourself for anger and resentment.

Anger gives a child experiencing divorce a sense of control. Since it is a more assertive response than crying to mommy — children between 9 and 12 see anger as a grown-up way of handling their emotions. You will learn in this, the fourth installment of our firstwivesworld exclusive series Your Child is Not a Statistic, that this phase of your child's development — where his maturity is beyond that of a little kid, but not quite a teen — is probably more complex than you could imagine.

At this stage, kids usually also try to detach themselves from the family and may appear ambivalent about the divorce. Don't be fooled. Both the anger and seeming lack of interest are defense mechanisms.

Preadolescents do have an increased understanding of relationships. But, in most cases, their emotional capacity to deal is still quite limited. So when you talk about your divorce, expect your 9- to 12-year-old to:

  • See it in strict black-and-white terms and want to lay blame squarely on one of her parents.
  • View the divorce as a rejection of him personally.
  • Push you to treat her like an "adult," asking for detailed information about the failure of the relationship.

Here's what you can say when you explain the divorce to your 9- to 12-year-old:

What is divorce?

"Divorce is a legal process that parents go through when they no longer want to be married because they are very sad together and cannot find ways to be happy together anymore. It means that we will no longer be married to each other, but we will always be your parents."

Why did it happen?

Some possibilities include:

"We didn't listen to each other enough. You know how sometimes you want to say something so much you don't even hear what the other person is saying? That's how your mother/father and I got to be. We cared more about what we wanted to say and not enough about what the other person was saying."

"We didn't take the time to think, 'How will he/she feel about this?' before we said or did something that hurt him/her or made him/her angry. That was very unfair."

"We fought too much and didn't learn how to talk to each other about our feelings without being angry and hurting each other."

"We didn't know how to stop arguing and walk away from a fight."

"We didn't make enough time to be alone together and be romantic. Couples can always find quiet time to be together. We just didn't do that." (This alleviates your child's fear that s/he may have been the reason you two didn't have enough time.)

"We were not strong enough for each other, and we let other people and things confuse us about our relationship." (This keeps your child from concluding that interference from others — affairs, in-laws, children — caused the divorce.)

"If other people or things came between us, it was because we let them. Each of us had the responsibility to make sure these outside things didn't affect our relationship, but we failed."

Will we still be a family?

"Yes. Even though Mommy and Daddy are getting a divorce, you will always be part of us. We both still love you and always will. You and Mommy/Daddy and you and I will always be families. But Mommy and Daddy will not be in a family together even though we both belong to you."

What will happen to me?

"You will be able to see both me and your mother/father a lot." Then spell out custody and visitation arrangements as clearly and in as much detail as you can.


Related Content:

Click the following for tips on How To Explain Divorce to Your 6 to 8-Year-Old.

Click the following for tips on How To Explain Divorce to Your Preschooler.

Click the following for tips on Explaining Divorce To Your Teen.

Click the following to return a directory of articles and resource videos on Kids, Family and Divorce.


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  • Comment Link Aliso Saturday, 05 March 2016 11:33 posted by Aliso

    I find it really, really hard to be nice about his dad. This man betrayed us both with his affairs. I'm not a saint but I didn't cheat or stop interacting with us for over a year before I told him I was divorcing him. I find all this "let's be nice about daddy" stuff super hard..especially when son tells me all of this is my fault at times. We are both angry and hurt still. His dad is currently playing the pretend "you're the most important thing in my life son" card. His dad never calls him, when he has had him all he does is the same as he did tv, drinks beer and basically does zip. When I see FB posts of what he is doing with his gf and her 6 yr old twins it makes me furious...he refused to do anything with us. So, I am finding it so hard to be the smiling, gracious parent and I am sure my 9 yr old knows this. Am I ever going to feel less angry ? I need some real advice on how to help my son because this nicey nicey stuff doesn't work.

  • Comment Link Elizabeth Sunday, 18 August 2013 22:46 posted by Elizabeth

    What if alcohol, and abuse (verbal and physical) are a major factor?

  • Comment Link Addyly Sunday, 30 June 2013 17:06 posted by Addyly

    I also don´t agree on hiding the true reasons. My son knows everything and specially since his father was so stupid to use HIS computer to contact his different girlfriends. Sad and pathetic as his behaviour was, my son understands that the biggest loser here is his dad. Funny how he gets angry with me for being so good to him, but after all, he was the love of my life and the father of my child. I hope the animosity disappears with the time... but no way I could hide the crap his father was doing...

  • Comment Link Guest Sunday, 21 October 2012 14:09 posted by Guest

    She is just upset about it.: She is just upset about it. My parents are going through one and I am extremely sad about it. It could be taken out of anger instead of sadness. She doesn't hate you she just hates the fact that her family she has been so close to is splitting up.

  • Comment Link Guest Friday, 13 July 2012 15:13 posted by Guest

    Please refrain from blame. : Please refrain from blame. If you wish for your daughter to adjust, you have to learn to adjust and model the behavior as well.

    The best way to address divorce and separation with children is to be honest by explaining why people decide on divorce as the best option. Do not blame your ex, you, and anyone. Simply state the generals about divorce.

    Take your daughter and your ex in for marriage and family counseling so you can all be given guidance on how to adjust to the situation.

    Please, do not blame or shame self or others. This is the least effective thing you can do.

    I realize how hurt you and your family must be. I offer my empathy and best wishes so you can all come out of this somewhat healthy and adjusted.

  • Comment Link Guest Wednesday, 04 July 2012 16:47 posted by Guest

    Talkign to a 12yrs old....: Hi,
    How can I talk to my 12yrs old to make her understand about the divorce? I try to reach out to her, but she just shut me out. I recently found out that she thinks that I hate her. I don't know why she would feel that way. I know that she is hurting about the divorce. I have tried to explain to her about it the best way I can, but I guess she didn't understand. I don't know what else to do to reach out to her. I just don't want her to do anything bad just because she didn't understand or think that I hate her. Please help me reach out to my kid.....

  • Comment Link Guest Friday, 20 April 2012 14:53 posted by Guest

    Talking to Child about her dad: It is very common for a child of her age to side with one parent and blame the other, regardless of the which parent is actually to blame. The harder you push the issue the more she is going to push back to defend the image she has of her father. It is good that were honest with your daughter, but now let the issue lie. Don't bring it up again. Your daughter is processing. Wait until she brings it up to talk about it again. It might take a couple years, and I assure you she will. Rehashing the issue right now will only make things worse. It is frustrating that your daughter is now siding with her father, especially when it was his actions that changed the structure of your family. You have every right to be angry and hurt, but trying to convince your daughter that her father is to blame for the separation, is not the solution. This will only strengthen her loyal to her father and while she distances herself from you. She is still trying to come to terms with the fact that her family is changed forever. You need to let her know that it is okay to feel angry and upset, and validate her feelings when she does express them. Also, this might be hard, but don't force her to pick sides. Let her know that it is okay for her to still love and spend time with her father, and when your daughter is at your house, don't ask about him. Make the time you spend with your daughter about her and not about your ex. Regardless about how you feel about him, he still is her father. Children generally prefer spending time with the parent who focus' on them. Focusing on the other parent or the separation can increase the child's anxiety and cause the child to become withdrawn, moody, or defiant.

    I hope this helps.

  • Comment Link Guest Thursday, 02 February 2012 09:35 posted by Guest

    Reply to divorce child: You are in a very tough situation. I disagree with the author of this article about not telling the child the truth. I don't mean sharing disgusting details, but making it age appropriate. I caught my spouse repeatedly on adult dating websites, he asked women out at our Dr.'s office, and at his work. I loved him and wanted to make our marriage work. I do not believe in divorce. I do not marry someone and have kids with someone just to give up and quit. He was unwilling to go to counseling or try to make our marriage work. I will not take responsibility for his actions. My kids over heard our fights and began asking me questions. I told them that their daddy doesn't love me anymore and wants us to separate. I also told them that mommy did not want to separate and that is why I am so sad. When they asked their daddy he told them it was none of their business. It was only between mommy and daddy. My kids were hurt by his answer.
    My kids and I are hurting, but this has brought us closer together. We talk about our feelings together..sad, angry, and scared. I also let them know that our divorce is not about them. They will still get time with their daddy and mommy.

    I hope you and your daughter can work this out. Have you talked to a counselor about this. Maybe you and your daughter should go to counseling together.

  • Comment Link BELEN IBAYDE Thursday, 26 January 2012 14:29 posted by BELEN IBAYDE

    divorce child: I have a 12 year old daughter, she is living with her dad now, but everytime I talk to her about her dad she is always defending him like as if I were the only one to blame because of our separation....How can I make my 12 year understand that it wasn't all my fault, he was the one that called it quits because he was fooling around with another girl, of course when I told her this she was already brained wash by dad, he told her that she was just a "good friend", when I know it's not true because I have pictures of them together, emails and skype messages of them.
    It just hurts me so much to see my daughter blaming me of what her dad did.... Sometimes I feel like sitting her down and show her all the evidence I have of her father fooling around, so that way maybe I can make her see the truth and maybe she could understand me.
    And yes I confess we had already problems before this happened, but they were fixable problems, problems that could be fixed by talking. I wonder what would of happened if it were the other way around??? If I were the one fooling around?
    Would I still be the wicked witch of the story?

  • Comment Link Guest Friday, 11 November 2011 21:36 posted by Guest

    Thanks ):(: My daughter and I talked about divorce from this article she cried and cried said she hates me and my ex and never speaks to me I told her this when she was 12 she's now 15 I still want get a peep from her sounds impossible but yes her teachers tell me she's depressed I sometimes hear her crying thanks for ruining my. Childs life

  • Comment Link Guest Tuesday, 03 March 2009 09:59 posted by Guest

    These are great explanations for a mutual divorce: But what about when you do NOT get to sit down as a couple and explain things? Or when it's not a mutual decision to divorce?

    I divorced my ex because he is an alcoholic and his behavior was becoming worse and worse. My daughter saw this. I couldn't honestly tell her that she'd see her father a lot, or that he'd always love her, and heaven knows, he wasn't about to sit down and take responsibility for any failure in the marriage OR for being a good parent post-divorce.

    I'm not going to lie to my kid. She has to know that someone will tell her as much truth as she needs to hear. (And no, though she pushed, I didn't tell her the gory details or run down my ex to her.)

    I'd love to see advice on how to help your kids when you are alone, when you simply cannot count on having your spouse do the decent thing.