Telling Your Kids about Divorce: 5 Tips You Need to Know
A divorce is an emotional event that will change you forever. It will also change the lives of the people around you, especially your kids. Many divorcing spouses fail at properly facilitating the adjustment for their kids, and it can lead to a lot of trauma and regret. It’s essential to have a good conversation about divorce with your children.
- Understand the need for a good discussion about divorce with your kids.
Imagine telling your kids about the impending divorce with only a few sentences in under 10 minutes. It’s not enough to help the child accept the truth. Most importantly, it can lead to misconceptions and feelings of abandonment.
Many children internalize the divorce as something that they caused. They feel guilty because they think they were at fault. Maybe your child asked for a toy a few days ago, and you and your partner fought about it. Your kid will look back at that moment and think that their desires or their presence led to the divorce. You can only imagine the kind of emotional burden this guilt will bring in the future.
A good conversation with your kids about divorce can help them adjust to their new reality more positively. It gives them greater agency. It also prevents possible long-term misgivings about marriage and divorce. You can show them that it can be a constructive and healthy process.
- Take the opportunity to correct misconceptions.
A good conversation about divorce will help correct and prevent these possible misconceptions. You need to emphasize that the divorce was your choice as partners and as parents. Children need repeated reassurance that the divorce was not their fault.
You also need to repeatedly assure your kids that you will remain their parents always. Otherwise, they would feel like their family is breaking apart. Instead, you can frame it as a change in family dynamics.
- Plan your conversation.
There’s no easy way to say that you’ll be having a divorce. However, you need to take all the steps that you can to make the conversation as open as possible.
During the early stages of divorce, emotions can already be running high. Don’t add to the drama by choosing the worst possible time to talk to your kids. Make sure your kids aren’t distracted with games, tired, sleepy, or hungry when you talk to them.
Plan the conversation with both of you in the picture. It’s better if your kids can hear and also see for themselves the new reality of their parents. Both of you can support each other and show that it wasn’t the kids’ fault.
It’s crucial to recognize that small children react differently to parental divorce compared to adolescents. You know your kids best.
- Don’t rush the conversation.
After speaking with your kids, don’t expect that they’ll be pleased within a couple of minutes. They probably won’t understand what divorce really means for them until a few days later.
Give them time to fight, negotiate, cry, or even shut down for a couple of days. Keep the conversation going by telling them you’ll always be there to listen. Go out of your way to comfort and console.
If you have more than one kid, make sure to talk to them together, and then encourage them to talk to each other as well.
- Agree on details before the conversation with kids.
The last thing you want to do is expose your kids to the nasty fighting that occurs in divorce courtrooms. Agree on your stances and show a united front for your kids. It’s not the time to stab each other in the back or make pointed comments. You also shouldn’t ask kids to have the final say over their own custody. The only exception to this is if one of the partners is abusive or clearly unfit to have the conversation.
You don’t need to have all the answers at the early stages of divorce. You also shouldn’t overwhelm your kids with all the minor details. A general picture can already reassure them. It gives them comfort that while things may change, they can always rely on the both of you.