The trauma of divorce is greatly compounded when children are involved.
For that reason, telling kids about your divorce is a very serious matter that should not be taken lightly.
Here Are Some Tips on Telling Your Kids About Your Divorce
Preparing for the tough “break the divorce news” conversation in advance is crucial to a successful outcome. Inevitably this conversation will bring up many fears and insecurities for your children. Consequently, there are several vitally important questions both you and your partner need to address and answer:
- How and when should we broach the subject?
- How much should we share during and after the initial conversation?
- How will our children react?
- How do we handle their questions?
- What do the experts recommend?
You also must be prepared for questions your children will ask. These will depend a great deal on their age and how prepared they are for the divorce revelation. Children living with high parental conflict or emotional turmoil at home for years or months may not be surprised by this discussion.
Kids who are too young or were kept from the discord at home may experience a form of shock and have a harder time accepting this dramatic news. Adapt your words to your family dynamics. And if you both love your children, put yourself on the same page, despite your differences, when talking to them.
Children are likely to ask questions about how the divorce will ultimately affect them:
- Where will I be living?
- Will I still go to the same school?
- Will I have to leave my friends?
- Will I still see mom and dad?
- What will happen over summer vacation?
You don’t have to have all the answers to these questions at the time of the divorce talk. But you should be prepared with as many reassurances as you can offer. If your child will be staying in the same home or neighborhood, telling them they will still see their friends and attend the same school is a big plus.
If they will be relocating out of the area, the conversation will be more difficult and complex. Find ways of boosting their sense of security by reminding them they will be with one or both parents. It may help to let them know they will be living closer to a relative or have greater access to something they like such as a sports team, beach, or famous zoo.
Be prepared to listen closely to what your child says, even if you don’t like what you hear. Don’t dismiss their emotional response. Instead, acknowledge their feelings and tell them you hear them. Assure them you and their other parent are working on making this transition as smooth as possible.
Children need reassurance more than anything at this time. This includes hugs, expressions of love and support, caring feedback, and compassion. Put yourself in your kids’ shoes before you respond to anything.
As the author of How Do I Tell the Kids About the Divorce? (and a divorced parent myself) I know the anxiety parents feel when having this crucial conversation. No one wants to make errors they will regret. Yet too often I see parents making the same serious mistakes. Often these mistakes have long-term effects on innocent children for years to come.
Avoid Making These 6 Mistakes when Telling Your Kids About Your Divorce
Here is a brief overview of six of the most important mistakes that every parent should avoid.
1. Bashing Your Ex To Or Around Your Kids
When you speak disrespectfully about your children’s other parent the kids are often hurt, confused, and riddled with guilt. Their thinking is, “If there’s something wrong with Dad or Mom, there must also be something wrong with me for loving them.” This can result in damaging your own relationship with your children.
2. Fighting Around the Children
Studies show that conflict creates the most pain and turmoil for children of divorce. Keep parental battles away from your children – even when they’re sleeping or you’re on the phone. Hearing confrontation they can’t personally resolve is frightening and disempowering for children. It robs them of their childhood innocence. It also boosts their levels of frustration – since they’re helpless to change the circumstances around them.
3. Pressuring Children to Make Difficult Choices
Most kids feel torn and confused when asked to choose between their parents. It’s a no-win situation. Often they lie to please one parent and feel guilty about the other. Don’t put them in that position.
4. Not Stressing Their Innocence
Don’t assume your children understand that they are victims in your divorce. Remind them frequently that they bear no blame in any way related to your divorce – even and especially if you are fighting with their other parent about them. It is not their fault!
5. Confiding Adult Information To Your Kids
Parents often do this to bond with their children. They also try to win their child’s allegiance or to alienate them from their other parent. This strategy often backfires in later years. Don’t blame your ex for your divorce when talking to your kids, even if you feel it’s justified. It creates an emotional burden that children shouldn’t have to bear. Vent your anger and frustration to your friends, your life/divorce coach, or your therapist!
6. Using Your Kids As Messengers Or Spies
Don’t ask and expect your kids to relay messages to their other parent. Instead use an online co-parent scheduling program for that. And never turn them into spies, sharing information about their other parent’s life and home. It makes children feel uncomfortable and puts enormous pressure on them. Often they make up lies you want to hear. In time, they’ll resent you for it.
Fortunately, you can reach out to divorce professionals locally or online who can support you, especially if you’re not confident about how best to approach your children. Speak to a divorce coach or see a therapist who specializes in this subject.
Seek out an attorney who practices mediation or Collaborative Law, which usually results in more positive, cooperative outcomes. Get advice from parenting coaches, school counselors, clergy, and other professionals. Don’t forget the many valuable books, e-courses, and articles on this topic.
Whatever you do, prepare yourself in advance before telling your kids about your divorce. Understand the impact of your words and tone on their innocent psyches. Avoid the mistakes we have discussed. Think first about the consequences before taking any action. That will give your family a stronger, more stable foundation on which to face the changes ahead with security, compassion, and love.
Rosalind Sedacca, CDC, is a Divorce & Parenting Coach and founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network. For Rosalind’s free ebook on Post-Divorce Parenting, online coaching services, and other valuable resources for parents, visit: www.childcentereddivorce.com.