By Alvin B. Michaels, M.D., P.C.

My wife and I are contemplating divorce. We have arrived at this decision through the help of a marriage counselor, and have had our first consultation with a divorce attorney. We have a preschooler, and two children in middle school. We would like your advice on how to prepare our children for the family breakup. How should we tell them, and how much? How will we be able to tell if they're having trouble dealing with the change?

Divorce is very stressful for children of all ages, and it is helpful for parents to be aware of the impact of the divorce upon the child. Children react differently to divorce, and some of the differences are functions of the child's developmental age. Very young children often regress to younger ways of behaving and may give up recently achieved accomplishments such as toilet-training. Children often believe that they are responsible for the divorce, and can develop guilt feelings, as well as depression, anxiety, disturbances in eating and sleepingn, or physical symptoms. Trouble signs can take many forms. Some children may become more inhibited and quiet, while other children may manifest their distress in difficulties in doing school work, conflicts with teachers, or fighting with peers. The good news is that children can be resilient to family stresses, particularly in an emotional climate of honesty and support.

It would be helpful for both of you to sit down with your children and explain what will happen to the family. This is best done before any changes are implemented. Everyday, simple and clear language should be used to explain to them that one parent may move out of the house. It should be emphasized that the divorce is not the fault in any way of the children, but the divorce is due to issues between the parents. Rather than a long explanation, it is better to explain the aspects of the divorce that will affect the children, and then respond to their questions. If there has been much bickering between the parents, the older children may not be surprised about the divorce. It should be emphasized to the children that both parents remain their parents, and that the parents love them. It is most helpful that this type of discussion precede any changes in your children's everyday lives. It is much better for them to have sufficient time to get used to the idea of change, rather than be told of it a week or two or even several months prior to the divorce. However, there is no "best way" to prepare children for a divorce in the family.

Meaningful information to your children about the problems between you and your wife would be helpful, as well as empathic responses to your children's questions. If you find that you are very uncomfortable preparing your children for divorce, or if any of your children develops changes in mood or behavior, you may find it helpful to consult with your pediatrician, or a mental health professional who specializes in child and/or family therapy. Also, you may want to check with the school, a local mental health clinic, or other community resource as to the availability of a peer group that permits discussion of their problem.

This is obviously a very complex issue, but not an unusual concern for parents undergoing divorce. Many people reading this column have similar concerns, and could benefit from your experience. Feel free to e-mail us with your feedback, comments and additional questions. Good luck!

Posted on Sunday, May 13, 2007 at 02:33PM by Registered CommenterSite Administrator in | Comments Off

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