Preparing children for your divorce is no easy task. No matter how long you have been married, getting a divorce is very rarely a walk in the park, especially when there are children entangled in the scenario, and having children while getting divorced can make the ordeal significantly more difficult.
Parents have to worry about custody arrangements, splitting financial responsibilities for the child or children, rewriting wills, and preparing for future disasters differently.
Perhaps the most important part (and certainly the hardest) is breaking the news to your children.
Children may express their grief in different ways, but it is rare for a child to want to see their parents divorced. Preparing children for your divorce is challenging, but with the right approach, you can properly protect and nurture them during this process.
7 Tips on Preparing Children for Your Divorce
Avoid Telling Your Children Until the Divorce has Started
Relationships go through a lot of ups and downs, so sometimes divorces are called off. The two parties may realize that divorce is not ideal for their situation and acknowledge that this time in their marriage is merely a rough patch.
It can be challenging for your child to process a divorce and then have to turn around and process the fact that their parents are not divorcing. Not only is it emotionally draining for them, but it can cause a sense of distrust for them and result in them constantly worrying about your marriage, so it is best practice to avoid mentioning a divorce until both parents are absolutely sure about going forward with divorce and the process has already been started.
Parents should engage in deep conversations about divorcing and the impact it will have on their family. They should also visit a marital counselor to be sure their problems are not able to be worked out. If divorce is still the answer after these interactions, the conversation should shift into how they will care for their family during the process.
The benefits of nesting co-parenting can be useful during the process of a divorce when children are involved.
Practice What You are Going to Say Before Telling Your Kids
Practicing how you will tell your children about your divorce is truly the most sensitive step of the whole process. Parents must recognize that how they share this news with their children can either establish a nurturing environment for them or the exact opposite during the separation.
Anything but a nurturing environment during this trying time can make the process of a divorce ten times more challenging. It can also be traumatizing for the kids which can extend beyond the finalization of the divorce.
So before you break the news to your child, practice what you are going to say to them, draft a co-parenting plan with your ex, determine living arrangements during the divorce processing time, figure out what you can keep the same for your children, and most importantly, make sure you two are on the same page about everything that concerns your children.
The same goes for pets too, who to many are considered fur-babies. Stability is important for all parties involved.
Though you two are not together romantically anymore, knowing the family will still be a family after the divorce can help smooth the process for both the children and yourself.
Reassure Them during Their Delayed Reactions
Before even telling your children, you should be mentally prepared to receive any type of reaction. Remember, this is affecting their lives, too, so they have every right to feel how they feel about the divorce. The key is to support and respect those feelings even if you do not agree with them.
Also, there may be delayed reactions, and that is okay, too! Children are still developing emotionally, so it may take them a little longer to process the news. If the next day, a week, or even a month later they have an emotional outburst or begin to act out, remember that it can be a delayed reaction to the news.
Responding unreasonably or harshly can cause unnecessary stress on your child, and minimizing exposure to stress should be a top priority when guiding your kids through a divorce.
Make it Clear They’re Not Responsible for the Divorce
A good way to protect your child’s feelings during this process is to constantly remind them they are not responsible for what is happening. Children, especially younger children, can easily blame themselves and their behavior for their parents divorcing.
It may seem exhausting and repetitive, but there is power in telling your child “It is not your fault” multiple times throughout the entire process of a divorce. Instead of placing the blame on the family dynamics, stress how the decision was based on two adults needing to be separate in order to be better individuals.
Explain What Will Stay the Same
Divorce is destabilizing for every party involved, including the children. What makes this even worse is the fact that children truly need stability in order to function and develop properly. So to keep some form of stability for them, clearly establish what will stay the same.
Providing any kind of stability is a great tool to minimize the physical and emotional effects of divorce on children. Things that normally stay the same are their school, extracurricular activities, sleeping arrangements, how involved each parent is with all activities, and even toys or furniture.
These key things can help keep children grounded emotionally during this time.
Have a Therapist on Standby
Sometimes parents are too close to their children to guide them through the process of a divorce. A child and their parent may have a great bond where the child can grasp the severity of their parent’s feelings despite the presence of reassuring words.
If this is the case for you and your children, you may need outside help from a child therapist who can better guide them while your emotional imbalance is visual to your child. Even if your child is not severely empathetic to the emotions you feel, a therapist can provide your child with a safe space to express their feelings towards the divorce.
This Too Shall Pass
Ultimately, it is important to remember that “this too shall pass.” Your family will make it through this divorce, and as long as the adults of the family seem to be handling things well, the children will try to do the same.
Here are some additional tips for preparing your children for your divorce:
- Make scheduling family events (doctor appointments, performances, etc.) your top priority
- Be expressive about your feelings towards your children
- Consistently tell them they don’t have to pick a parent
- Keep them in the loop on what will be happening next
- Stress the fact that both parents are still on the same team and the family will still be intact
Taking the time to talk to your children throughout the entire divorce process can help ease their emotions. Give them the opportunity to express their feelings, and reassure them of your love no matter what is happening.