Divorce is painful for everyone, particularly children. Telling the kids that you and your spouse are splitting up isn’t easy, but these tips will help you ease the pressure. Focus on truth, simplicity, and emotional comfort, and be prepared to address any questions about divorce kids may have.
How to Explain Divorce to Children
Telling your kids about divorce is one of the most difficult things you may ever have to do. According to Shirley Thomas, child psychologist and author of Parents are Forever: A Step-by-Step guide to Becoming Successful Coparents After Divorce offers twelve important tips for telling your kids about divorce. In a nutshell, these are:
- Plan the discussion, and anticipate difficult questions.
- Act as a team. Experts recommend that parents sit down and tell the kids together, even if one parent does the bulk of the talking. Emphasize the fact that despite the divorce, children are your priority and still have your love.
- Provide simple, basic information. It’s a good idea to explain that the parents won’t be living together anymore, but that love for children hasn’t changed.
- Don’t assign blame. Keep calm and do not express anger. Thomas suggests a simple statement such as “Your mom and I have decided that we don’t love each other the same as we did when you were born and now we’re going to live in separate homes.”
- When telling your kids about divorce, keep the explanation age-appropriate. Teens can handle more details than young children, and questions should be answered truthfully.
- Mention that sadness is OK.
- Focus on things that will stay the same.
- Stress the love you both have for your children.
- Provide at least two weeks notice before either spouse moves out. This might be uncomfortable for you, but it gives your kids time to process the information.
- Give kids small doses of information. Having three 10-minute conversations is more effective than having a single 30-minute talk, says Thomas.
- Involve the nanny if appropriate. If you have a nanny or frequent babysitter, have him or her be privy to the information. Advise the nanny to avoid placing blame on either parent and reinforcing the fact that the parents still love the child.
- Talk about other divorces. Explain that divorce happens for various reasons. Be reassuring as you discuss divorce with your children.
- Explain how custody will work. Be sure to present a united front with your ex, and have the details hammered out before engaging your child in discussion.
Telling Your Kids You’re Getting Divorced – What Not to Do
When considering how to talk to kids about divorce, be sure to avoid these common pitfalls:
- Don’t time your discussion poorly. Avoid telling your kids about divorce if an important event, test, or celebration is going to be happening soon. Kids should be relaxed and content when approached with the news of the impending divorce. Be sure that both of you are emotionally prepared to deal with the discussion and its potential aftermath.
- Don’t fight in front of the kids. Ever. If you’ve made this mistake and the kids are worried, let them know that fighting is part of real relationships and that it doesn’t change the way you feel about them.
- Don’t tell the kids you’re getting a divorce until you are certain that it’s going to happen. If possible, time your discussion so that a signed divorce agreement with specific custody arrangements is in hand and one of you is nearly ready to move out.
- Don’t tell the kids by yourself. It’s not fair to them, and it is not fair to your soon-to-be ex.
- Don’t make any promises that you’re not certain you can keep.
- Don’t upset your child’s routine. During turbulent times, it’s vital for kids to stick to the routines they are used to. Seeing to it that most things stay the same during the early stages of divorce is one of the best ways to reassure your kids.
Stay calm throughout the process of telling your kids that you’re getting divorced. If you seem anxious or out of control, it will cause problems. Divorce isn’t easy on anyone, but by remaining calm, speaking rationally, and reassuring your kids that they are loved, the process of sharing the news is likely to go much more smoothly.