Your grade-schooler sees their parents as their whole world. While they have friends at school, they still rely on you for love, support, and social interaction.
During and after the divorce, it’s important to instill feelings of trust and stability in your children, even as your own world is in flux.
Grade Schooler’s World View
While it may feel like your babies are leaving the nest to attend school and make their own friends, that’s not how they feel.
You are their world, their connected companions. You’re there to help them make sense of everything that’s going on in their lives.
They rely on you to create a schedule and care for them, just like when they were younger. At this stage of your child’s development, their parents still hold a largely heroic role in their lives – larger than life and the cornerstone of all stability.
The news of a divorce will be confusing to them; it will be hard for them to truly understand what it means that mom & dad are no longer going to be married. At first, it will feel like mom or dad is simply away but it will become harder to understand the longer the absence from daily life becomes evident to them.
They also focus on themselves entirely, which means it will be hard for them to understand how a divorce isn’t their fault. Even with assurances, it’s likely that your grade-schooler may think that something they did is the cause of this division in their house.
Your grade-schooler will also struggle with dealing with having two homes, two schedules, and two sets of rules. This is particularly true if the rules and environments are substantially different from each other.
It is important to note that your grade-schooler, achieving a greater degree of sophistication in their reasoning and understanding of the world, may use any differences between mom and dad to their advantage to give them a greater sense of control in their world.
School age children often fantasize that their parents are getting back together. They crave the life they had with Mom and Dad and don’t want their new life to be permanent. They just don’t understand why things had to change.
They will be worried about the future – where will they live, what will happen with the holidays, will they get to see their extended families again – all of these things are going to be deep worries for them.
Assure them they are loved and that both parents will do everything in their power to help them keep their lives as stable as possible. The only warning here is not to make promises you cannot keep – your school-age child won’t understand why you couldn’t keep it.
Your divorce represents the end of the family as your grade-schooler knows it.
They will likely be scared and concerned. Your divorce presents them with a hard reality that nothing is permanent, even love. This will make them feel anxious about the love their parents have for them and may be worried that they could be “divorced also”.
It’s important to let them know that they are loved and that nothing could stop you or your spouse for loving them. They may need regular assurance of this in different ways.
Make sure they know they are taken care of even through this big change.
Your child craves the stability they had when Mom and Dad were together making it exceedingly important to have a visitation agreement in place as soon as possible.
They’ll be worried because it seems like things are up in the air – especially if they need to spend time elsewhere, if a routine has to be changed, or if plans have to be cancelled.
And while some degree of chaos is expected while the divorce moves on, it’s critical to get to stability quickly.
Grade-schoolers need to have a schedule and understand things like which days they are with mom or dad and who is picking them up at school. The more consistent their schedule can be, the less they will worry.
Assure the child of what is staying the same. You love them and will always work to protect them. They don’t need to worry about adult problems.
What to Do
Create a schedule that you, your spouse, and your grade-schooler understand. When changes happen, be sure to communicate with everyone.
It’s likely that your grade-schooler will still be willing to talk to you about their feelings. Solicit their thoughts on a regular basis, encourage them to share how they feel and more importantly, be open to anything they have to say. Your child will be scared about what the divorce means and how it will affect them.
You can share about how you feel too but be careful not to overshare. Balance the words you say and the feelings you demonstrate. You’ll want to let them feel validated but not that they have to carry the burden of providing you emotional support.
Enlist the help of teachers, grandparents and other trusted adults in the child’s life. Not only can they help you with day to day tasks like school pick up and drop off, they can talk to your child to identify concerns you may need to address later.
Falling grades and out of the norm behaviors are signs your child needs attention. Even if they won’t talk to you, they will have other adults in their lives with whom they can express concerns.
As with all children, grade schoolers need communication and honesty from you. They need to know they are loved and that you and your spouse protect and care for them, no matter how the family has changed.
Engaging with an attorney to protect your family is never an easy step. Whether you need to protect your family from the unthinkable or restructure your family through collaborative divorce, we’re here to help. When you’re ready to schedule a consultation with Michelle Ogborne, please visit the scheduling page to get started.