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.
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.
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