Children need to be told that their parents are getting a divorce. However, this news can come as quite a shock, no matter how much a child knows about their parents’ relationship. Preparing for the conversation and thinking through all of the questions they might have can help you protect and prepare your child during the transition. Here are some tips on how to talk to your children about divorce.
Tell Children Together if Possible
If you and your spouse can be amicable enough, tell your children the news together. That way, it won’t be viewed as one parent’s decision or fault. The decision may have not been unanimous, but maintaining a united front can help provide the feeling of safety and security.
Avoid Blaming Each Other
Blaming the other parent or having a doom and gloom attitude while talking to your child about divorce can cause them to take on your anxieties. Keep in mind that any negative feelings you share about your spouse is about your child’s other parent. Name calling and anger can have a destructive effect on children, and may also make your child feel like they must choose a side. It is best to present the news as simply and matter-of-factly as possible, while also being sympathetic to their feelings. Throughout the transition try to keep adult issues, such as court dates and conversation with lawyers, separate from interactions with your child.
Remind Your Children it’s Not Their Fault
When your children ask why you are getting a divorce, give them a simple, honest answer while also reminding them it is not their fault. Try to come up with your answer ahead of time that both parents can agree on. Just make sure your kids know that this decision had nothing to do with them, since children often feel tremendous responsibility for their parents choosing to divorce.
Listen to and Support Your Child
Validating your child’s feelings is vitally important in making them feel heard and understood. By the time you are in a position to end your relationship, you may have already gone through the stages of anger, hurt and grief – you might even be in the final stage of acceptance. Remember that your children may need to work through these stages at their own pace. Your kids may be angry or sad, and may stomp their feet, cry, or say nothing at all. Be supportive of whichever way they choose to express their emotions. Let them know you are there for them and give them the time and space they need to process the news. However, be aware of any warning signs of ongoing trouble with the transition and new living situation, such as:
Severe mood changes, sadness, anger, or withdrawal.
A decline in grades.
Social withdrawal and spending too much time alone, or a sudden change in peer group (especially if the new friends encourage negative behavior)
Refusing to comply with reasonable rules and boundaries (e.g. lying, stealing, fighting, cheating, aggression)
Sleep or eating disorders
If your child is exhibiting any of the above mentioned warning signs, notifying a school counselor or seeking professional help for your child can be constructive options. Any problem your child is experiencing is not a sign that you have failed as a parent. Instead of assigning blame for the situation, try to focus on your child’s current needs and finding an effective method for helping them.