The emotional toll of a divorce is ten-fold for children, who crave consistency and constant emotional support. During a child’s formative years, when she is still forming an attachment with her parents, something as traumatic as a divorce can permanently alter the course of a child’s emotional development if the parents don’t take steps to support them. This can make talking to your children about divorce a difficult conversation.
Children want to know that both parents will still be there for them. In the best-case scenario, you and your ex can sit down with your children and have a conversation about the divorce, while reassuring them that they are your foremost priority. Just as the case was when you were married, it’s important to make parenting decisions with your ex and present a unified front. Don’t make unrealistic promises that will leave your children feeling let down if you can’t deliver.
How To Talk To Your Kids About Divorce
Here are some tips on telling your kids about divorce.
Tell Your Kids When The Decision Is Final
Don’t tell your kids that you are considering a separation or divorce until you know for sure. Children need certainty about what their future holds. You may want to wait until 2 to 3 weeks before the divorce to tell them.
You also need to ensure that your parenting custody exchange plans are in place as quickly as possible so you can tell them immediately after breaking the news. This will provide stability during a time of constant and rapid change.
Choose a day when you can have family time together to tell your children, like the weekend. Don’t break the news on a holiday, a special event, before school or before their bedtime. You need to be near to your children because this is the time when they will need you the most. Reassure them and be there for them emotionally as they process the news.
Your children will likely have a lot of questions, and you need to let them ask.
They should also feel able to discuss their feelings with you. Whatever you do, don’t diminish or dismiss what they are feeling. Acknowledge their emotions, and encourage them to use “I feel” statements. They may have feelings of shock, anger, sadness, or even guilt if they think they caused the problems at home.
Tell Your Children Together
You and your spouse should tell your children together even if you often disagree. This will avoid confusion for your children and show that it was a decision that both of you made together.
If you get upset and angry around your spouse, ask a mediator or counselor to help facilitate the conversation with everyone in the room including both parents.
Make sure to avoid blaming each other in front of your child. Otherwise, your children may feel they have to side with one parent against the other or that the divorce was their fault. If your child feels that they caused the divorce, they may think that there is a chance that their parents can get back together.
Use simple terms that your children will understand and that are appropriate for their age. Be as straightforward as you can. If you have children of different ages, talk to them together. However, you may want to have a separate conversation with the older children later. The last thing you want is for your kids to hear the news from a sibling.
Your children will look to you to see how to responsibly and constructively cope with stressful changes. Try to remain calm when they are around. This models for them how to be able to do the same. For this reason, you should save discussions about contentious matters for times when you and your ex are alone instead of attempting to have them when the kids are around.
Handling An Emotional Conversation
Telling your kids that you and your spouse are making the decision to get a divorce can be a very emotional and difficult conversation. If parents cry, acknowledge that it is a sad thing. Tell your kids all of you love each other and will help to support each other.
You and your spouse need to make sure to work as a team as much as possible. If one parent starts to become angry or upset the children, the other parent should help to mitigate the situation. Let your child know that Dad or Mom is upset, call for a break, and agree to talk again later. Let your kids know that things will get easier with time and empathize with their feelings about the upcoming changes.
Tell Them The Plan
Your child will have questions about how things will change after you talk to your children about divorce. This includes where they will live, where they will go to school, who will take care of them and who will be moving out, and how often they will get to see the parent who moves out.
Be prepared with the answers. Tell your child any custody and visitation schedule you have already planned with your spouse. Tell them if Dad or Mom will leave the home and who will live with them. This will help your child prepare for the changes especially if they have to go back and forth between two houses. Be honest if there are things that you don’t know.
Keep reassuring your child that your decision to get a divorce has nothing to do with them. Your child can still love both Mom and Dad equally without feeling like they are betraying one parent. Be patient with them about the different feelings they might experience that includes sadness, worry, and anger. Let them know that you and your spouse will always be their Mom and Dad who loves them even though all of you may not be living together.
Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Don’t promise your kids that you won’t have to move if you are not certain about it yet. Instead, focus on things you know will remain the same, like going to their current school and still being able to hang out with their friends.
Avoid Blaming Each Other
Keep any details about financial issues or extramarital affairs to yourself. Don’t blame your spouse or say that the divorce is someone’s fault. Your children may feel conflicted about being caught between both parents and seeing parents fight can be damaging for kids. Use “we” to show that you and your spouse made the decision together. You can say, “We tried to work out our differences but we could not.”
It’s ideal to keep to regular family routines, including treating the other parent respectfully. Your children are going through the difficult process of trying to understand how things will change after the divorce. If you can help them see that some things remain the same, they can adapt and adjust better to their parents living apart over time.
Don’t Tell Your Kids The Details
You do not need to let them know the details about why you want to get a divorce, or even the specifics of the divorce process no matter their age. Do not leave divorce papers around where kids can find them or talk about legal issues where kids can overhear.
Your kids might still ask you more questions about why you are going to get a divorce. Have a general explanation, like “We are not getting along very well and are tired of fighting”, or “We each want different things and have decided to separate for the next phase of our lives”. Emphasize the important point that you want to remain a part of your kids’ lives. They need to know you love them very much because you are their parents, even though both you and your spouse are happier apart.
Maintain Consistent Routines
Try to provide as much structure as you can for your kids during this time. This can help them feel more comfortable and familiar and cope better with the change. Don’t stop your children from spending time with the other parent as one-on-one time is important. Try to accommodate your ex as much as you can. Your kids also need to see that you and your spouse are committed to them as parents and all of you are still part of the same family.
Watch For Unusual Behavior Changes
After talking to your children about divorce, your children might start to exhibit anger, defiance, or clinginess. They may start to sleep poorly or feel sad. Sometimes they can say they don’t feel anything about the divorce. However, kids may just not know how to express their emotions. Their moods may change frequently but do not take it personally. Your school-age kids may also try to escape by going out with their friends more often and spend less time at home.
Sometimes they may ask you plenty of questions and sometimes they don’t seem to hear you at all. You may need to reassure your child who asks questions repeatedly. They are often asking more questions to test if their parents really care. Be patient with them.
Encourage your child who does not say anything about how they are feeling to express how they feel at any time, even if they seem to be pushing you away. Take a walk or read stories together so you can be there for them. Hugs and pats on the shoulder can reassure your children that you love them.
Talk to your kids about how they are doing or feeling once every few days. However, avoid pestering them about their feelings. You might ask them if they spoke to anyone and what they think they can do if they’re feeling sad or thinking about the change taking place in the family.
When your kids have had some time to process the news and they seem to be feeling more stable about it, talk to your kids about what they already know about divorce. They may have heard some things from friends or other people they know whose Mommy and Daddy are divorced. This is an opportunity to reassure them about unrealistic worries they may have about divorce while learning what they’re hearing about divorce from other kids.
Take Care Of Yourself
You may be under a lot of stress due to the divorce process which can involve discussions about custody and property division. Keep yourself healthy physically and mentally so that you can support your kids. You may also have your own anger and sadness about the separation from your spouse to process. Join a support group or talk to trusted friends and family about what you are feeling.
Older kids may want to provide you emotional support, but they should not be your main source of support and they should not have to take care of you.
Sometimes you may need to enlist the help of a mental health professional to vent to and process your emotions. You may also need to get professional help if your kids are not coping well.
Let Trusted Adults Know About The Divorce
Let the adults around the children like their teachers or school counselors know that you are getting a divorce. They need to know this information so that they can keep a lookout and be prepared if your children exhibit a change in behavior. However, make sure they do not talk to the children about divorce unless your kids mention it themselves.
What Do You Say To Your Child When You Are Getting A Divorce?
If you are talking to your kids about divorce, do it together with your spouse. Tell them, “We have decided that we do not want to continue being married to each other and we can’t live together anymore”. Emphasize that this is an adult decision by both parents and does not have anything to do with the children. Tell them that both parents will always love them as their Mom and Dad even if you and your spouse have decided to live apart.
It’s important to tell them what changes to expect, who will take care of them, and how frequently they can expect to see the other parent. Don’t make a promise about something that you aren’t sure of yet. However, telling them what won’t change can provide them with some certainty.
It can be difficult to talk to your children about divorce and help them cope with the changes to the family now that Dad and Mom are not living together. The award-winning Family Law experts at Sean Lynch can help to advise you on how to maintain the best interests of your children.
Contact us today for a no-cost case review.