Day One of Family Mediation Week, focuses on the panic of families getting caught up in the storm answering many questions they may have. The main focus of this early stage for you is probably explaining your divorce to your children and ensuring they are cared for so we have put together a short guide on this.
Older children and teenagers are often perceived as more resilient than younger children, but children in this age range should still be treated with care when explaining the situation. Over the years, at Marcia Mediation we have found that children, particularly older children want to really understand the situation, why it happened and have a say in their future. This is where child-inclusive mediation can work to allow their voices to be heard, but if you are struggling to find the words to summarise and explain the separation to your child, we have devised a guide on how to explain separation to older children and teenagers.
Make a judgement call on the truth
For children of this age range we usually advise telling them the truth about the reasons behind the split because they can usually handle this and react better to honesty. However, you and your ex-partner can make a judgement call on this depending on the maturity of the child and particularly on the details of the split. If it was caused by adultery for example then make a judgement call, although we do advise that the truth is told to children of this age since often they have already guessed the reason behind the separation and are just waiting for someone to be honest with them.
If you do decide to tell your children the truth, be careful not to exaggerate or include opinions since your negative view of your partner and their actions should not impact your child’s relationship with their parent. For example, you could say ‘You’ve seen your dad/mum and I arguing a lot and because of this we have decided to get a divorce. We tried but we just weren’t able to stop arguing.’ This will help the child to adapt better to the situation since they will be able to fully understand it.
Emphasise that it is not their fault –
Although you may think children of this age do not need reassurance that the separation is not their fault, often this is good to add just incase. This will prevent children from blaming themselves in the future which benefits their overall mental health. For example you could say ‘Although we won’t be married anymore we still love you and will always be your parents. That hasn’t changed and will not change. This absolutely is not your fault, we just could not resolve our differences’.
Be specific and thorough with their living situation –
Let your child know where they fit into this situation being as specific as possible and answering any questions they may have. You should also allow your child to have input in this since it directly impacts them. This is where child-inclusive mediation can be beneficial, since it works to really hear and understand children’s wants and needs and comes to an agreement on how best to orchestrate this.
What to watch for –
In older children and teenagers who often experience unstable moods without any catalyst, irritability and anger are common reactions. You know your children better than anyone else at this age so consider what their moods and behaviour was like before and compare it to after the divorce. We have found that the best ways to deal with this is by keeping communication open. Children this age often act as though they do not want to be reached out to, however we have found that they still need and crave connection with their parents. As parents you need to show your children more than ever now that you still very much love and care about them, so keep talking to them and encouraging them to talk about their feelings even if they seem to push you away.
Consider mediation –
Child inclusive mediation is an inclusive process that involves children and ensures their voices are heard. Mediators can meet with children one-on-one to understand their perspective on the situation, especially hearing their preferences in living situations. The main benefit of mediation however, is that it keeps your children out of the courts which can be deeply unsettling for them and can impact them in the future. If you would like to find out more about child-inclusive mediation, click here.
A pioneer for mediation since commencing legal practice as a family solicitor some seventeen years ago Marcia has worked exclusively as an independent mediator since 2004, focussing initially on family mediation, and latterly on workplace mediation. Marcia’s accreditations include Family Mediation and she is a qualified child consultant practitioner. Her associations include the Professional Mediators Association and Resolution. Marcia is also a Resolution qualified Professional Practice Consultant (PPC). If you would like to resolve your separation issues through mediation please visit: marciamediation.co.uk