Talking to children about divorce is always difficult even under the best of circumstances, but how do you handle it when you’re angry, hurt, or feeling betrayed? You may have every right to be angry at your spouse, but it is essential for the wellbeing of your children that you set that aside when explaining separation and divorce to them.
When it comes to talking to your children about divorce, there are several things to keep in mind to ensure your kids
How to Talk to Kids About Divorce
Before telling your children that you and your husband or wife plan to divorce, take some time to plan your approach with the following tips:
1. Tell Them a Few Weeks Before Your Separation
Don’t spring the news of a divorce on your children. Tell them a few weeks before you and your soon-to-be-ex-spouse will separate. This gives your child time to process the news and ask questions.
2. Avoid Being Negative About Your Spouse
Trashing your spouse is harmful for your children and takes a terrible toll on their psyche. Children need to feel loved, protected, and have a strong connection with each parent. If your child knows you think poorly of the other parent, or hears accusations, it makes it very hard for them to seek what they need from both of you.
3. Have a Plan
It’s important that you have a plan before you sit down to discuss this with your children. Think about what you will both say, about the questions that may arise, and how you’ll answer them. This helps you present a united front and lets your kids know that you’re all in this together.
4. Talk to Your Children at the Same Time
Some people think it is best to tell the older children first, and the younger kids later. This is not a good approach, though. It puts undue stress on the older child, since they are now tasked with keeping your secret, while sending the message to the younger child that they’re not capable of hearing serious news. It’s best that you tell all of your children together to avoid feelings of secret-keeping.
5. Keep Your Message Simple
While it might be tempting to lay it all out for your children to help them understand what’s happening, don’t. Unless your kids are older, they’re incapable of understanding the complexities of something like divorce and even if they are old enough to understand, they don’t need to know all the ins and outs of your relationship. Something as simple as saying, “Your dad (or mom) and I have decided that we can’t be married anymore. We have tried to make it work but we think it would be better if we lived separately,” is an effective way to break the news.
6. Keep Your Problems Between Yourself and Your Spouse
Set the rule early that what happens between a married couple is private and you won’t be sharing unnecessary details. If you make this clear, and stick with it, they will respect it. Your children do not need to hear that infidelity, finances, boredom, or emotional affairs have led to the break up of your marriage. Speak in general terms about why people divorce and remember that you are comforting them, not commiserating with them.
7. Reassure Them That They’ll be Safe and Taken Care Of
During divorce, most kids express concerns about who will take care of them and where they’ll live. While you may not have all of the answers at first, you should assure them they they will always be safe and taken care of, even if mom and dad aren’t living together anymore. Play up the things you know will stay the same, whether it’s Friday night pizza or dad taking them to school every morning. Tell them that you’ll figure out the details together, but some things will stay the same and they’ll always be taken care of.
8. Encourage Questions and Keep the Line of Communication Open
Make sure your kids know that they can ask both of you questions (agree on what you will and won’t discuss with your spouse) and that you’re both there for them when they need to talk. This is a very stressful time for all of you, so it may be wise to seek professional help from a family counselor or therapist for yourself and/or your children.
9. Explain That This is For The Best
If you have kept your fighting away from your children, they will probably want to know why you’re divorcing, since to them it will seem like nothing has changed between you. Explain that this is for the best and although mom and dad seem happy now, they will be even happier when they’re living apart. Reiterate that everything will work out just fine, even if things are confusing or difficult right now.
10. Take a Deep Breath
Before you have this discussion and whenever you are upset at your spouse or are put on the spot with a tough question, take a deep breath and relax for a moment. Think about what your child needs to hear versus what you want to say. Speaking out of anger isn’t beneficial for anyone.