There is no easy way to tell your children about divorce. At some time, though, most divorcing parents need to have this uncomfortable and heartbreaking conversation. When preparing to have that talk, experts recommend that you consider the following:
(1) Parents should aim to be together when the children are told about the divorce.
(2) Children need the truth, but not all of the details. Answer your children’s questions truthfully, but there is no need to respond with absolute precision or to share the sordid details (if there are any) of your break-up.
(3) Children need to be prepared for how their lives will look – in tangible terms. Tell them about the schedule. Tell them about their new room(s). Tell them about their new neighborhood(s). Talk with them about which one of you will be taking them to their activities, etc.
(4) Do everything you can to make the children feel secure and loved. More hugs than usual might be needed when you are in the process of separating. Realize that children don’t always express their feelings, needs, and fears “on schedule”. Be prepared for spontaneous eruptions of emotion and, at least while the children are in transition, give them your undivided attention when it looks like they are ready to talk.
(5) Assure your children that the divorce is not their fault. Even though this may seem intuitive, lots of children make the mistake of assuming the divorce is their fault. Sometimes the leap is not drastic, either, if the children have heard and/or seen their parents argue over matters involving them. As always, fault (of the parents) is irrelevant here in terms of both parents assuring and reassuring their children that the divorce has nothing to do with them or anything they have done or said.
(6) Don’t give your children false hope of a reconciliation. Many children have a secret (sometimes not so secret) dream that their parents will magically reconcile. Though giving your children hope that you and you ex will one day get along better (if you are not presently experiencing an amicable separation) is often a good idea, leaving the door open, in terms of hope, that there will be reconciliation can, however, lead to tremendous disappointment and even disillusionment about family, love and security.
(7) Children process information in their own unique way. Before you sit down to talk with your children about your impending divorce, think about how your particular child hears, absorbs, processes and utilizes information. Remember: Just because a big expert in the field says that “x” is what your child needs to know, that advice may not work with your particular child. Be sensitive and try and put yourself in your child’s shoes.
Understand that, no matter the age, children will never forget the moment that they are told that their family, as they know it, has come to an end. Each child will react differently. Denial, fear, regression, anger, apathy, and fear of abandonment are normal reactions. It is these reactions that you will want to be prepared for when you tell your children about the divorce. Their reactions may be instantaneous or delayed. Regardless, it is your children’s reactions to the separation and divorce that you will want to be focused on in terms of finding the best ways to alleviate their anxiety and help them settle into their new lives.
Posted by Elizabeth Downing Revell, Mediation Assistant