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How to Approach Family About Divorce

STEVEN KEIST: Hi, I’m Steve Keist. I’m a lawyer and a senior member of a five-lawyer firm with offices in Glendale and Peoria, Arizona.

DANIEL GAUGHAN: Hello, and I’m DJ Gaughan. I’m a psychologist and my offices are in Central Phoenix.

STEVEN KEIST: DJ, one of the unfortunate aspects of divorce is that it often entails families with young children. As a professional, how do you approach that with families when they’re trying to deal with the effects of divorce on kids?

DANIEL GAUGHAN: Certainly. I advise that parents talk to the children about the divorce. Developmentally, kids are at different places and so you have to approach them a little bit differently. If you don’t think you have the skills to do that, then you might get some outside help and some advice about how to approach it.

I recommend that two to three weeks before separation that both parents sit down together and talk to the kids about what’s happening. You don’t sugarcoat things, you’re very straightforward in how you speak with things, but of course, you speak with compassion and answer the questions that the children have and so on.

STEVEN KEIST: I’ve felt that it’s always helpful when parents are honest with kids, but it also makes a difference on their age how much you want to reveal to them. Isn’t that true?

DANIEL GAUGHAN: Yes. I mean, the younger kids, toddlers, preschool kids, they have strong emotions but they can’t express them well. They may be resistive. Obviously, they don’t want to see their parents separate and go different ways and they get worried about being left behind; they think that it’s their fault. I think it’s important to make sure that the children know that you are there for them and the other parent is there for them, and just because they’re going to be living in different places doesn’t mean that they’re going to be abandoned.

STEVEN KEIST: Yeah. I think it’s important that parents understand that they’re both going to continue to be the parent, the father or the mother of the child, no matter whether they’re living together or apart, and that the children love both of them and they’re going to want to be able to have those relationships throughout the rest of their life even though they may not be a married couple.

DANIEL GAUGHAN:  Yeah. The kids may not want to talk about it, they may cry, they may tantrum, but you leave the communication open with them, encourage them to talk, and then you have to let those questions come as they come. You don’t want to push them too hard either, but you want to make sure that you give them some one-on-one time, plenty of time to interact with them, and opportunities to hear what they have to say and give them feedback.