How to Explain Divorce to a 7-Year-Old


Divorce can be hard especially to a 7-year-old. I have wondered how to explain such a sensitive ordeal to a child. I did some research, and this is what I found.

How do you explain divorce to a 7-year-old? It is important that a child knows that a divorce is not their fault. The healthiest conversation will happen when both parents sit down with their 7-year-old, and calmly explain what changes are now going to take place.

Divorce is not an easy thing to talk about. Our freshly hurt feelings cast a sour mood over everything we discuss. It’s important to be neutral and calm when talking with your children, or you may cause them unnecessary pain.

Explaining Divorce

Navigating a conversation about divorce can be difficult even for adults. Divorce never starts as a relationship goal. When it creeps into a relationship it not only hurts you and your partner but everyone’s lives that are connected to yours, especially those of children.

Feelings of bitterness and resentment can permeate through a home around the time of divorce hearings which children can easily pick up on.  In an attempt to spare your child’s feelings you may talk sparingly about the divorce or want to avoid the conversation altogether.

Seven-year-olds are always watching. You may think that you are pulling the wool over their eyes, but they are actually fooling you. Try as you might to save your child’s feelings, they will be hurt and when they are, they more than likely won’t tell you about it.

The choice you have now is whether you will be the adult and confront the elephant in the room, or leave your child wounded in the dark.

Most parents want to talk with their 7-year-old children about the subject but are unsure on how to approach such a sensitive matter. In order to have a more productive conversation on divorce, you need to better understand the mentality of your 7-year-old child.

How a 7-Year-Old May View Divorce

Imagine for a moment your childhood hero. If you were anything like me, I bet that you imagined a superhero type person. Someone who can do no wrong, and stands as the bastion of truth in a changing complex world. Perfect in every way, your hero could do no wrong.

Now imagine that you met your hero in real life and they were an absolute jerk to you. Not only did they not give you an autograph, but they called security and had you thrust out of their presence. Can you imagine the devastation you would have felt as a young child?

Well, children feel something similar when their parents file for divorce.  We are all too aware of our own character flaws, but they may not be so obvious to a 7-year-old child.

At this young age, children still think the highest of their parents. Relatively unaware of any faults they may possess, a 7-year-old child still has that my-dad-knows-everything attitude. When reality breaks with a child’s perception, it can get ugly.

While 7-year-olds have less egocentric thoughts than younger children, they still think in terms of “me”. Their world surrounds around them, and when anything goes wrong, they tend to blame it on themselves.

When discussing divorce, do anything and everything possible assuage the guilt your child is most likely feeling.

Seven-year-old children are naturally curious and will ask a lot of questions about the “why” of the divorce. Knowing how to approach these questions tactfully will help your child transition through these trying circumstances.

Having the Divorce Talk

Every parent knows that children ask profound important questions, especially during trying times. Your divorce will be no exception. Expect to hear questions you may never even have considered coming from your children at this time.

The best way to answer tough questions is to act as if you are a team with your partner in showing love and understanding to your 7-year-old child.

Here are some steps you can take to help the discussion go smoothly.

  1. Have a plan. Have you ever taken a big math exam without studying beforehand? If you have I imagine it went poorly and this conversation won’t be much different. Kids will have questions and they deserve answers. Sit down with your partner before your big talk and come up with some age-appropriate answers to the questions your child may ask.
  2.  Be a team player. The last person you want to work with right now is your partner, and I understand that. Wounds are still fresh and all the changes that are taking place can be just as frightening to you as it is to your child. But now is the time to set aside personal feelings for the benefit of your child. Experts recommend that both partners sit down to discuss divorce with all of their children. Even if only one parent does the majority of the talking, the presence of both parents will reassure the kids.
  3.  Explain the facts. It is helpful if kids know exactly what is going on and why. Tell them that you and your partner won’t be living together anymore. Tell them that you won’t be married anymore because you don’t love each other the same as when you first met. Keep the explaining simple and calm.
  4.  Explain to your child’s maturity. Seven-year-old children are at the crossroads of kid-dom. No longer “little kids”, but not quite a “big kid” either. Maturity at this age can vary widely from child to child. Know what information your child can stomach, and what may be too tough to digest. More often than not, a simple explanation will suffice. If your child needs more information, serve it in a way that your child will understand.
  5.  Don’t play the blame game. It can be hard to remember that your child still loves and respects your partner just as much as they love you. Openly insulting your partner feels can feel like a personal attack to a child. Be calm and anger-free, even if that means omitting details about the “why” of the divorce. The most important thing is to reassure the love both partners feel towards the child and that the divorce is in no-wise their fault.
  6.  Empathize. Divorces seriously hurt adults, but they devastate the lives of children. Friends I know who experienced the divorce of their parents at an early age were forever changed by the event. Let your child know that it’s OK to be upset with the turn of events. After all, it is sad. Children feel guilty if they think they are feeling an inappropriate emotion. Let them know that its OK to grieve.
  7.  Focus on the familiar. Yeah, a lot is going to change, but a lot of things will stay the same too. Most importantly, both parents still love their child and want what’s best for them. Routine can be the lifeline to reality during tough times. Let your child know what will stay the same. A little normality will help them cope with the big changes that inevitably come with divorce.
  8.  Give a two weeks notice. Shirley Thomas, doctor of child psychology and author of the book “Parents Are Forever: a Step-By-Stp Guide to Becoming Successful Coparents After Divorce”  recommend giving your children a schedule of what is going to happen in the near future. “Once plans are made for separate homes, kids should be given about two weeks’ notice to process the information.” Says Thomas.
  9.  Have several “little talks”. No need to stress your self with one 3 hour discussion on all the changes that will be happening. Even after the divorce happens, children will ask questions about what’s going on. Don’t shut these talks down. Give all the information your child needs to feel in the loop. Otherwise, the lack of information may become a source of worry.
  10.  Be loving. Above all, take all the time needed to show your 7-year-old child how much you love him. Although big changes are happening, that doesn’t affect how you feel about your children.

If you are currently happily married it is still a good idea to talk about divorce with your children. Contrary to popular belief, the divorce rate is actually dropping in the United States, but that doesn’t mean your child won’t be aware of it.

They may hear about divorce from a friend, an uncle, or maybe even on TV. Either way, it’s a good idea to explain what exactly a divorce is. You can say it’s a choice some adults make because they feel like it’s what is best for their families.

It is important to explain that just because you and your partner may have a disagreement, that doesn’t mean you are going to have a divorce. Explain that arguing is part of any normal relationship.

If you fail to explain this to a child, they may become deeply distraught anytime they see you and your spouse arguing.

Anticipating Tough Questions

Now that we have talked a little about how to answer tough questions let’s talk about some common questions that your child is liable to ask.

These questions can generally be divided into 3 different groups. Home questions, emotional questions, and social questions.

Let’s talk about  questions on the home first.

Home Questions

The first thing that a 7-year-old child will likely ask, are questions centered around their own well being. He is anxious to know if he will get to live in the same house and if not then where? 

He will wonder about his important possessions and where they will go. Your 7-year-old has likely grown up in this same house for the majority of their life, and change of this magnitude will not be easy.

Explain to the child where they will be living and when. And also where both parents are moving. Here is a list of questions that 7-year-olds commonly ask in regards to their home.

  • Where am I going to live?
  • Where will my siblings live?
  • Where is mom/dad going to live?
  • Where will all my stuff go?
  • Will I have to move?
  • Can I keep my room?

Emotional Questions

Emotional questions are questions that deal with the why of divorce. Seven-year-old children may even blame themselves for the tumult in the home.

Children are naturally curious about why adults do the things they do and they deserve a real explanation. Reassure your child that both parents still love them and are still united in wanting the best for them.

Here is a list of emotional questions that your 7-year-old is likely to ask.

  • Why don’t you love mom/dad anymore?
  • Why are you breaking up?
  • Are you mad at me?
  • Do you still love me?
  • Is this my fault?
  • Can I fix this somehow?

Social Questions

By age 7, children are starting to develop more relationships outside of the home. These friendships can be very important to the emotional well being of a child.

Routine can be very comforting. Whether you are aware of it or not, your child likely relies on the familiarity of her school schedule to help her cope with this difficult circumstance. Changing the routine can be very shocking for a child.

A 7-year-old will need time to digest a change in school and a change in their neighborhood. Inform your child of a big change like this as soon as your are aware of one.

They will also be very concerned about their friends, how to tell them about the divorce, and whether or not they will still get to see them. 

Friends can be a major part of your child’s support group. If your 7-year-old child will be leaving behind friends, do all within your power to help them find new friends fast.

Here is a list of social questions that your 7-year-old may ask.

  • Will I be changing schools?
  • What is going to happen to my friends? Will I still get to see them?
  • Will everyone know about the divorce?
  • Should I tell my friends about the divorce? How should I do it?
  • Is it hard to make new friends?
  • Will I be able to continue this activity (dance, baseball, art class, etc.) when I move?

This is just a small list of questions that your child may potentially ask. The best person who knows what type of things your child will ask is you. Do a little thinking and anticipate some of the big questions coming your way.

The best way to comfort your child is with concrete details. A plan will help you know what to say to your child, and will also help them feel better about some of the big changes that are coming.

Helpful Resources

Divorce is hard for parents and children. You don’t have all the answers to what is going to happen and are deeply hurt and upset with the way things are going, as well.

If you or your child need additional help. Please consider going to a family psychologist. They may be able to provide the extra help that you need.

Here is also a list of books that may help your child understand the divorce better.

Conclusion

Divorce can be ugly and there is no easier way to say it. During these difficult times, you may feel alone and distressed. You may think to yourself, “how can I have all the answers when I have so many questions about what’s going to happen?”

Don’t feel alone. There are a lot of people going through similar circumstances that feel the same way. If you have your 7-year-olds best interest at heart, then they will understand when you don’t have all the answers.

There are no such things as perfect families. Trust in yourself and you will make it out of these hard times.

Additional Questions

At what age are children most traumatized by a divorce? Children are most susceptible to the sting of divorce from ages 2 to 10 and peak at 11 years old. At this age children are deeply egocentric and are likely to blame themselves for any conflict in the home.

They have also developed deep attachments to both parents and will be particularly vulnerable to their loss. Children under the age of 2 are likely to have little recollection of the event and will not be affected as much.

Is moving traumatic to a 7-year-old? Seven-year-old children are very dependent on routine to bring some stability into their lives. Therefore moving can be very difficult for them. If you are planning on moving soon, it is best that you give your child time to mentally prepare.

Using concrete details, explain to them why you are moving and what will happen when you move. Moving is a great opportunity to experience a new place and meet new friends. If you have a positive attitude about the move, it will signal a positive mood to your child as well.

 

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