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How to Explain Divorce to Your Kids

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Guest blogger Jessica Katz: With celebrities splitting left and right lately, I decided to ask an expert for the best way for parents to tell their kids they're breaking up.

parents talking to boy
David Arquette recently told shock jock Howard Stern the way he broke the news of his and Courteney's split to daughter Coco. He said he took Coco to the beach for a picnic to tell her that her parents are getting a divorce. Did he go about it the right way, or the wrong way?

Dr. Jenny Eide, Ph.D, says, "There isn't really a right way. But the Mark Brown book Dinosaurs Divorce is a great resource. It's a guide for parents on how to explain divorce."

Dr. Eide's tips:
  • Answer any and all questions. "Let the kids ask what they want to know," says Dr. Eide. "They will only ask what they are emotionally ready to hear -- which may not be a lot."
  • Both parents should be present in the room.
  • Explain it in a language that the kids will understand, without going into too much detail or blaming either parent.
  • Explain how their life will be both different and the same, and describe what their life will look like. "What kids are most worried about is, 'How is this going to affect me?'" says Dr. Eide. "Say, 'Mommy and Daddy won't be in the same house. There will be two houses, two traditions, two holidays.'"
  • Stay calm. "Kids take their cue from you," notes Dr. Eide.
  • Alert the people around your children, such as teachers and counselors. (You want them to be aware of signs and symptoms like depression.)
  • Above all, explain that it wasn't their fault. "Kids often think they did something wrong, and they often have fantasies about their parents getting back together, like in 'The Parent Trap,'" notes Dr. Eide. "Validate their feelings and reiterate that it was not their fault and that you love them."  
  • Don't tell the kids until you have a clear plan. "If you're waffling or going back and forth, don't include the kids in your thought process," says Dr. Eide. "Otherwise, it will create a lot of anxiety for them, and they won't know how to process the whole thing."
  • Try to put the children first -- they are stuck in the eye of the storm. 
  • No name-calling or hitting below the belt. "Having your parents divorce is hard enough without hearing them sling smut," says Dr. Eide. "For a child of divorce, there is nothing worse than being stuck in a game of tug o' war, anchored in guilt. Saying bad things about your spouse may make you feel better, but it will make your kids feel lousy. Remember: Your marriage may not have worked, but your divorce can."


next: The Birth Rape Phenomenon
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