DANIEL GAUGHAN: Hi, I’m DJ Gaughan. I’m a psychologist. My office is in Central Phoenix and I serve adults and children throughout the metro area.
MONICA DONALDSON STEWART: My name is Monica Donaldson Steward and I’m a family law attorney practicing in Chandler, Arizona.
DANIEL GAUGHAN: And I live in Chandler.
MONICA DONALDSON STEWART: All right.
DANIEL GAUGHAN: So I don’t know why I didn’t move my office down there, but I’m in Central Phoenix. And we’re going to talk a little bit today about how you talk to children about a pending divorce.
MONICA DONALDSON STEWART: And that’s actually something that a lot of people ask me when they come in and they haven’t yet made that decision. “How do I talk to my kids? Should I talk to my kids? Do we have to talk to our kids together?” And I’m not a mental-health professional. It’s not an answer – a one-right-way answer I can give them. I can just speak from experience.
So from a more clinical perspective, how do you deal with that?
DANIEL GAUGHAN: Well, every kid is different, and of course, there’s developmental differences. You don’t talk to a toddler the same way you talk to a teenager. One thing you don’t want to do is surprise anybody, and that includes your spouse if you’re the person initiating the divorce. The first conversation would be with your husband or your wife, and then the next conversation, hopefully, could be done with the two of you together and talking to the children. And it should be done two to three weeks prior to the separation being arranged to give the kids time to adjust before one or the other parent moves out.
MONICA DONALDSON STEWART: Are there situations where it might be appropriate to involve a counselor or mental-health professional and actually having that conversation?
DANIEL GAUGHAN: Yeah. Sometimes parents like to do that. If they can handle it on their own, I think that’s just fine. Sometimes people come to my office and they say, “We don’t know how to talk to the kids about the divorce” or they’re finding that the kids are crying and upset and they know that there’s something going on and they can’t quite pull it out.
It’s important that someone talk to them about this and that you not just let it go. And just because a kid says, “I don’t want to talk about it” doesn’t mean they shouldn’t. So you want to keep the lines of communication open.
MONICA DONALDSON STEWART: And I would imagine that parents need to be prepared for the different kinds of reactions they’ll receive. There might be sadness, there might be anger, there might be fear.
DANIEL GAUGHAN: All those at the same time.
MONICA DONALDSON STEWART: Right, exactly, depending on the child. So it seems to me that one of the best things the parents can do is reinforce to the children that the parents’ relationship with the child doesn’t have to change just because the relationship between the parents is changing.
DANIEL GAUGHAN: Yes, that’s very, very important that you get that feedback.