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Explaining Divorce to Young Grandchildren

by Kathryn Rateliff Barr, studioD

Divorce is a common occurrence for many adults, but young grandchildren may not understand why people they love and trust divorce. As a strong and loving part of your grandchild’s life, you might have to explain why you are going through a divorce or to help your grandchild deal with your child’s divorce. In either situation, you can provide a loving and safe place for your grandchild to process the news.

Divorce at Home

Other than a parent’s death, there is nothing more traumatic to your grandchild that when her parents divorce, according to “Reader’s Digest Grandparenting Today.” If your child and her spouse are divorcing, your grandchild could become confused and feel that perhaps she did something to cause the divorce. Don’t take sides in the matter, even if your feel strongly that your child has been wronged or that the grandchild’s parents should work things out. Offer a safe oasis for your grandchild to come and shelter from the divorce storm, suggests psychologist Lillian Carson, Ph.D., in “Helping Grandkids Survive Divorce” for Grandparents.com. Express your unconditional love and support for your grandchild and let her know you are there to support and listen if she needs you. Offer appropriate physical affection such as hugs and loving touch to assure her that she is not being rejected.

Divorce Details

Divorce could be a scary topic to your grandchild. Explain that sometimes adults have problems they can’t work out and must live apart to be happy and healthy. Assure that child that a divorce in the family does not mean that the child isn’t loved and nothing he can do can repair the situation. While details are being worked out, assure your grandchild that you intend to be a part of his life, love him and allow him to visit when possible. If he is concerned about where he will live, where the dog goes, or other details important to him, assure him that his parents will let him know when they work out the details.

Coping With Change

If your child becomes your grandchild's non-custodial parent, access to your grandchild could suffer, acknowledges psychologist Jeanne Hilton, Ph.D. in “Helping Grandkids Survive Divorce.” Maintain a relationship with the custodial parent to maintain your place in your grandchild’s life, suggests Carson. Communicate through letters, phone calls, small gifts and visits you work out with her custodial parent. Assure your child’s ex that you have no desire to take sides in their divorce or post-divorce life and that your focus is in maintaining a relationship with your grandchild.

Your Divorce

If you're divorcing, assure your grandchild of your love and that your divorce will not affect your love for her. Explain how important she is and admit that circumstances might change, but your love will not. Answer any questions your grandchild might have, suggests Susan Newman, Ph.D., in “When Grandparents Divorce.” Don’t bad-mouth your spouse or get your grandchild to take sides. Assure her that you and your ex will be cordial when you bump into one another at family events.


About the Author

Rev. Kathryn Rateliff Barr has taught birth, parenting, vaccinations and alternative medicine classes since 1994. She is a pastoral family counselor and has parented birth, step, adopted and foster children. She holds bachelor's degrees in English and history from Centenary College of Louisiana. Studies include midwifery, naturopathy and other alternative therapies.

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