There is no easy way to tell your children that you and their other parent are getting a divorce. Preparing and rehearsing what to say can help, but actually giving them the news is still difficult and often emotional.
During and after this conversation, many sources inform North Carolina parents they should remind children that the divorce is not their fault and has nothing to do with them. Why is this an important step to take?
There are two reasons why children commonly feel this way
Every child is different. However, there are a few reasons why children feel guilty and worry that they are at fault for their parents’ divorce. These emotions are tied to:
- The child’s stage of development: From ages two to six, children often have an “egocentric” or “self-only” focus. This is not a bad thing. It is simply part of a child’s development determining their place in the world. It takes time to grow out of this way of thinking – even up until age thirteen. This stage is often what makes children believe they are to blame for their parents’ divorce. For example, children in this stage might think, “If I behaved better, then this would not be happening.” It is also what often leads children to believe they can fix things and bring their parents back together.
- The grieving process: The whole family will likely experience phases of grief while they navigate divorce. Guilt is one of those phases. So, on top of their stage of development, the emotional processing of the divorce is yet another factor leading young children to feel as if they are the reason their parents are divorcing.
So, what can you do?
Knowing what to say and staying aware of your child’s reactions can help you reinforce the idea that the divorce has nothing to do with your child. It is often beneficial to:
- Specifically state that the divorce is not because of the child
- Provide continuous support to help the child embrace change
- Be there for them – and tell them so
- Address your own feelings actively
Your emotions can influence how you parent – and parental guilt is just as common as a child’s guilt when it comes to divorce. If you address your feelings, then it can help you to recognize the signs in your children as well as help them manage their emotions effectively.