The Two Words Not to Use With Children During Divorce
As a Neutral Child Specialist,
I often meet with parents who have not yet told their children about their decision to get divorced or unmarried.
I encourage parents to create a We Statement that helps children understand what is going to happen without putting them in the middle of conflict between their parents.
and articles written about children and divorce stress the importance of telling kids the divorce is not their fault, and they are not to blame. Here are three developmental reasons why I encourage parents not to use the words fault
in their We Statement.
1. Young children still mastering language can easily become confused about negation. These children may translate “it’s NOT your fault” to “it IS your fault.” Young children may believe this and internalize the idea without questioning it.
2. School-age children are developmentally focused on understanding fairness, causality and the dynamic of good guys vs. bad guys. If told they are not to blame, many children will wonder, “well then, who IS to blame?” With this thought, children can find themselves unhappily stuck in the middle.
3. Teenagers have even more knowledge and sophistication about relationship dynamics, and may feel compelled to learn and pass judgment on “the truth.” It is especially important to not introduce fault or blame in the discussion with teens.
What then is the alternative to using the words “it’s not your fault” or “you’re not to blame” if parents want to reassure their child that he or she had nothing to do with parents’ decision to get unmarried?
I recommend an affirmation such as, “You are the most important person in the world to us. We love you and cherish you, and will always be your mom and dad and take care of you.” These words communicate in a positive and supportive way what children need to hear from parents during this difficult discussion, and are an important part of an empathetic We Statement. Stay tuned for future posts about We Statements.
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