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Advice on talking to pre-teen children about divorce

View profile for Christopher Myles
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Insightful advice on how the age of your children will affect how they react to the news and changing circumstances brought about by your divorce from M. Gary Neuman, licensed family counsellor and Florida Supreme Court-certified family mediator.

No two children will respond in the same way, even if they are close in age, but professionals have found that certain emotions tend to be more prevalent at certain age groups.

Of course, divorce is not a time to compare your child with others to determine how appropriate their behaviour seems to be. Your child's unique personality will play a big part in his or her response. However, there are certain tendencies that are more common at various ages. Wise parents learn what they can expect and so are not caught unprepared when their children act out or react negatively to the challenges of divorce.

M. Gary Neuman, a well-respected marriage and family therapist is an expert on children's post-divorce behaviour. He tells parents that children under the age of nine tend to respond to hurtful situations with sadness, but that's not necessarily the case for older children.

Anger and resentment are much more prevalent after age nine. "Anger gives a child experiencing divorce a sense of control," says Neuman. "Since it is a more assertive response than crying to mummy - children between nine and twelve see anger as a grown-up way of handling their emotions."

"At this stage, kids usually also try to detach themselves from the family and may appear ambivalent about the divorce," he adds. "Don't be fooled. Both the anger and seeming lack of interest are defence mechanisms."

The pre-teen is at an awkward state of maturity which is beyond that of a little child, but not at the level of a teen. Their ability to understand emotions is still rather limited and consequently, their behaviour can seem distant and unfeeling. According to Neuman, when you talk about divorce to your nine to twelve year old don't be surprised if they ...

  • See it in strict black-and-white terms and want to lay blame squarely on one of their parents.
  • View the divorce as a rejection of them personally.
  • Push you to treat them like an "adult," asking for detailed information about the failure of the relationship.

As with all children, pre-teens need to be reminded that you love them, that you will always still be their parents, that they will be safe and cared for and that you are working out the details so that everything will be okay.

To discuss Family Mediation as a way of communicating and coming to agreements if you are separating and have children you want to make the best decision for, for both parents, contact Chris Myles, Family Mediator in York at Crombie Wilkinson Solicitors on 01904 624185.

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