How much should you tell your children about your divorce?

We’ve read with interest an article by Lucy Wallis that’s been recently published on the BBC News website and which asks the question: ‘Should you tell your child why you are splitting up?’

As we’re all too aware, many marriages sadly end in divorce and for couples with children, one of the most difficult issues for parents is whether they should explain to them why their marriage has broken down.

The article talks about 17 year-old Daisy who appeared in the recent BBC Two programme ‘Mum and Dad are splitting up’ and whose parents separated when she was 14. When Daisy’s parents told her that they were splitting up Daisy was devastated, however her mum and dad decided not to go into the reasons for their separation.

Over four million children in the UK live in separated families and this figure equals around a third of all children. This begs the question that if children and young people want to know more about the reasons for their parent’s separation, should there be more openness on this issue?

According to Paula Hall, a psychotherapist who works with Relate and who has written their guide ‘Help Your Children Cope with Your Divorce,’ how much detail parents should give largely depends on the age of the children, the reasons behind the break-up, along with their ability to understand.

The article also contains comments by Laverne Antrobus, a child psychologist at London’s Tavistock Clinic, who stresses the importance of being careful about the level of openness that couples have with their children about the reasons for their divorce: “We are talking about adult relationships, and depending on the age of your child, they are still learning about their own identity and particularly their own identity in relation to you as a parent.

“So if you say something that sounds fairly innocent, for example, ‘He or she doesn’t make me happy anymore,’ that might seem very straightforward and obvious to you, but for a child they might start thinking, ‘Well what happens when I don’t make you happy, will you leave me?’ So I think the words that we use are terribly important.”

The BBC News article can be read on the BBC News website.

The programme ‘Mum and Dad Are Splitting Up’ is available to watch on BBC iplayer until Wednesday 18 September 2013.

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