Divorce in and of itself tends to be a difficult, emotional process. It can be even more distressing when children are involved. Often, telling your children the divorce is happening can be especially challenging. In our work we have found many parents struggle with how and when to tell their children about divorce. We recommend you consult with a licensed family therapist, a divorce coach or parent facilitator before taking this step. However, here are a few tips to help you prepare for this conversation.
Make a Plan
Working with divorcing individuals and couples over the years, we have found a plan for this conversation leads to the best outcomes. Whether both parents are breaking the news together or you’ve been tasked with doing it alone, plan and rehearse it prior to having the conversation with your child. You will want to consider how you will react to your child’s reaction. Some children become quite upset while others become quiet and ask for space. A plan for dealing with their reaction is important.
You can also practice by creating and answering questions that you think will be asked. The question “Why” often arises with our clients when they have this talk. That answer needs to be known upfront and ideally, agreed upon by both parents.
You are divorcing your spouse, but your children did not ask for this – placing their needs above yours to be right or justified, we feel, is critical. They love and need you both.
Decide When and Where to Tell Them
You want to set a time and place for this conversation when everyone is most likely to be calm and collected. Pick a time when you and your children will be unhurried and able to focus on what you’re saying. Make sure little kids aren’t hungry, overtired, overstimulated, or in need of the bathroom. Ideally, you want to have the conversation in the child’s home, as this is where your child is more likely to feel comfortable and safe.
Share the News Together
It’s helpful for both parents to sit down and share this news together. Presenting a united front can be reassuring to the child and ensures that they receive one set of information about the divorce rather than hearing conflicting viewpoints.
Ideally, the more you can discuss and agree on together ahead of time, the better. However, there are situations where that can’t happen, such as mental illness, abuse, or other issues that make it impractical or not safe to have both parents in the same room for this conversation. If that is your situation, do your best to inform your child of what is happening in as straightforward a manner as possible.
Make It Age-Appropriate
Kids will process the news differently at every age, so you’ll need to modify your conversation based on your child’s developmental abilities. You know your child best, so be sure to tailor what you say to their needs and level of understanding.
The younger the child, the less concept of marriage and divorce they have, so the simpler your language needs to be. Focus on basics, such as if one parent is moving out, what will happen with your pets, and when the child will spend time with each parent. Keep it short, while letting the child know they can ask any questions they have.
However, even as you might give more information and your child may ask more complex or personal questions, be sure to avoid placing blame on one parent. You don’t want the child to feel like they must choose sides.
Listen to Your Kids
Once you’ve said what you need to say, turn over the conversation to your child. Be prepared to listen and support your child in whatever way is needed. Allow for an open discussion where the child can freely express their feelings (including crying if necessary) and they can ask any questions they have.
Divorce Mediation is a great option when it comes to navigating divorce with minor children. Our goal at Divorce Strategies Group is to help both parents build and maintain a positive, effective co-parenting relationship. We work with family focused attorneys and together we walk hand in hand with you and your spouse to create the ideal parenting plan. Our office is located at: 1725 Hughes Landing Blvd., The Woodlands, TX 77380. Contact us today to schedule a complimentary consultation.