by Sharan Kaur
Our relationship and family counsellor Ms Sharan Kaur answers some common questions about navigating the process of divorce with young children.
Divorce can have a negative impact on young children but an unhappy marriage can also result in unhappy children. The most important thing to remember that it is not the separation itself but how the parents and caregivers handle this delicate process. Here are some frequently asked questions about navigating divorce with young children:
Should I tell our children of the divorce or separation?
Yes, they should be told. Any change in the household can cause confusion in a child’s mind. It is this confusion that can be more dangerous than the change itself. The impact of this change can be somewhat negated as long as the child is aware that the change is going to happen and they are given a level of certainty in their life. For example, try to stick to a routine and try not to disrupt their schooling.
What should I tell our children?
You do not need to give them all the information but whatever you tell your child, there must be a reasonable semblance of the truth. Losing trust of the parent or grandparent is more damaging.
Furthermore, the information give should be consistent. Children will pick up on inconsistencies so parents, grandparents, helpers and other caregivers must be given the same framework of information that will be shared with the children.
If you have more than one child, both children must be given the same information. It can be phrased in a different manner according to their level of understanding but the general information must be congruent.
Does divorce have a larger impact on younger or older children?
The age of the child is irrelevant. It is not necessarily more damaging within one age group or another. However, different age groups may react in a different way and their needs have to be managed differently. The long-term impact of the divorce is not dependent on age but rather the adults dealing with it.
How can I minimise the impact of divorce?
There are a few things both parents can do:
Firstly, both parents must continue to spend time with their children (unless one parent is deemed unfit). Make a schedule and stick to it as best as possible to avoid confusion for the child. Give the children a calendar and mark down ‘mummy’ days and ‘daddy’ days.
Kids may fantasise if they do not know the actual situation. The key here is to be realistic and not idealistic.
Ensure that there is constant positive communication from all parties involved. The children should know that no matter what happens, they are loved and supported by both their parents. Remind them how important they are to you and to come to you with any questions or doubts – even if they ask the same question over and over again. This will help to give the confidence and the security to confide their fears with you.
Finally, please remember that even the most dysfunctional family can raise wonderfully well-adjusted and happy children. There is no hard and fast rule to anything that involves people and their emotions. We just have to do our best and give our children a safe space to express their feelings in a positive constructive manner.
Ms. Sharan is a registered counsellor with the Lembaga Kaunselling Malaysia. Her main focus is relationship counselling (marriage, same-sex and family), helping to build more joyful and meaningful relationships. She has postgraduate qualifications from the University of Malaya and is also a certified trainer for the Prepare Enrich program.