Telling kids about divorce is no easy task. Sooner or later, you’ll need to have the conversation. It will probably be the most difficult talk you’ve ever had with them, but you know it in your heart that you made this decision for their own good. This doesn’t make it any easier, though
As psychologist Carl E Pickhardt wrote for Psychology Today, “Divorce introduces a massive change into the life of a boy or girl no matter what the age. Witnessing loss of love between parents, having parents break their marriage commitment, adjusting to going back and forth between two different households, and the daily absence of one parent while living with the other, all create a challenging new family circumstance in which to live.”
Telling kids about divorce and the changed family circumstances is overwhelming. Is there a way to make it less shocking?
There is. The way you tell your kids makes a real difference in the way they cope with this divorce.
7 Tips on Telling Your Kids About Your Divorce
1. Don’t Do It Right Away
The decision to get a divorce does not come unexpectedly. You and your ex probably both knew that things were not going well and that your relationship was moving in this direction, although you may have made attempts to save the marriage. In most situations, that’s the way it goes – it’s a process and it unwraps itself with the big decision.
Don’t spill the news as soon as you decide to get a divorce. Be with your children together as a family, at least for a day. This will come as a shock to them, so you’ll appreciate the opportunity to give them a few moments of happiness before that.
2. Prepare a Plan
You can’t just go about telling kids about divorce by saying “we’re getting a divorce!” right out of the blue. You need a plan. It has a lot to do with the way you say it, as well as the timing.
Don’t break the news when your kids are sad, distracted, or tired. Do not tell them during happy moments, such as holidays or birthdays. Choose a good time that brings about the least impact.
What will you say? How are you going to say this? You need to stay calm. The best way to do that is to have the speech planned, or maybe even rehearsed.
3. Do It Together
You should never carry this burden alone. It doesn’t matter whose fault the divorce is — you’re in this together.
The plan should involve both of you. Don’t talk about the reasons. Do not get into an argument in front of them. Do not blame each other. Just tell your kids that you tried to work things out and you failed, so you made this decision for everyone’s sake.
Be mature. You can do this!
4. Explain the Outcome
When telling kids about divorce, the inevitable question will come to their minds: now what? Where will they live? Will they get to see both of you?
In the best-case scenario, you and your partner already decided who’s leaving the house and who’s taking the kids. “We don’t know” is not an acceptable answer. You need to provide some kind of security for your children.
Anna Tyler, a writer from the psychology niche at CareersBooster, explains: “Divorce brings a great level of uncertainty into a child’s life. These were happy children with no worries, and suddenly they don’t know what the future will bring for them. It’s important for the parents to minimize this feeling as soon as they tell them about the decision they made.”
5. All Your Kids Should Be Together When You Tell Them
If you have older children, you may feel that they will have a better understanding of why you and your spouse are divorcing. You may feel comfortable telling them while saving the little one from stress for as long as possible.
You shouldn’t do that.
It’s best to have this conversation when the entire family is together. If you have more than one child, they will be each other’s support system. Don’t take that away by forcing one of them to deal with the pain alone when you tell them not to say anything to their brother or sister.
6. Don’t Leave the Important Choice to Them
If they are old enough, your kids will want to have a say in this process. They might wish to choose who they will live with. But allowing them to make this choice is very different from allowing them to have a say.
This is a decision that you and your ex-partner should make.
If your kids are younger, it’s even more important to make this decision for them. You should never put them in the middle by asking them who the better parent is.
7. Expect Reactions and Be Prepared to Deal with Them
Each child will react differently to the news about divorce. Some may briefly cry, but then may act as if they didn’t hear it. Ignoring this fact is their way of thinking things will sort themselves out. Other children may keep changing the subject. They may refuse to listen altogether. Some may be very emotional and won’t stop crying for days. Others won’t show emotion; they will bury it deep inside.
As a parent, you should be prepared for any of these reactions when telling kids about divorce. What will you need to do? Be there for your kids. This is the time when they need you the most.
Eugene is an Australian-based blogger for CareersBooster, who is into stand-up comedy. His favorite comedians are Louis CK and George Carlin. A good morning laugh is what keeps Eugene upbeat and motivated throughout the harsh day.