Divorce is unquestionably a difficult and emotionally charged journey for both parents and their children. When the time comes to talk to your kids about it, it’s absolutely vital to approach the situation with the utmost care, empathy, and sensitivity. If you’ve been postponing taking the first steps toward your divorce because you’re concerned about how to have this conversation with your children, this article will offer guidance on compassionate ways to prepare yourself and your family for that moment. These suggestions are designed to minimize their emotional distress and provide the support they need during this challenging time with love and understanding.
1. Plan the Conversation Together
Before announcing your divorce to your children, it’s essential that both parents sit down together and plan how you will approach the conversation. According to Dr. Ann Gold Buscho Ph.D. in Psychology Today, it’s advisable for parents to “agree on a calm, loving, reassuring tone and a non-blaming explanation. Be sure you and your spouse agree about what will and won’t be shared.” Presenting a united front can provide a sense of stability during this uncertain period. Dr. Buscho also emphasizes that “the only exception to doing this together is when it is not physically safe to do so.”
2. Timing and Environment Matter
Selecting an appropriate time and setting is crucial. Dr. Gold Buscho elaborates, “[Avoid having] this conversation with your children before bed or when they are leaving for school, or during holidays or birthdays.” Make sure you have plenty of time to talk without interruptions, and choose a comfortable, familiar space where your children feel safe and secure. Dr. Buscho suggests, “perhaps a weekend morning, when you can talk with your kids, and then spend some time together as a family. This reassures your children that you will both still be their parents.”
3. Honesty with Sensitivity
When discussing the divorce with your children, it’s essential to be honest while tailoring your explanations to their age. Dr. Gold Buscho underscores matters like “affairs, betrayals, arrests, financial problems – these are not suitable topics to discuss with your children.” These subjects can be detrimental to children and don’t contribute to their sense of security. Also, keep in mind that younger children may need simpler language and less detail, while older children may require more information. Make sure that your explanations align with their maturity level.
4. Stress That It’s Not Their Fault and Not Their Responsibility to Fix
One of the most critical messages to convey is that the divorce is in no way their fault. Children often blame themselves, especially if they’ve witnessed arguments that revolve around them or their needs. Clinical Expert Jamie Howard, PhD, shared valuable advice with the Child Mind Institute, suggesting an explanation like this: “You might have noticed that we’ve had more disagreements lately. Just so you understand, one or both of us may have said things because we’re upset about the situation, but none of it is directed at you. These situations are complicated, and we, the adults, will work through them. It’s not your responsibility to fix this. There are other adults who can help – lawyers, judges, therapists.” Assure them that this decision is solely between the grown-ups and doesn’t reflect their behavior or actions in any way.
5. Express Love and Support
Let your children know that you love them unconditionally and that this love will not change because of the divorce. Dr. Jennifer Guttman, a Clinical Psychologist, emphasized to FamilyEducation the importance of reminding your kids that parents never stop loving their children. She stated, “it’s important that they know that they will be loved by each parent and that the parent/child bond cannot be broken,” she says. Reassure them that you will both continue to be involved and support them in every way possible.
6. Answer Questions Honestly
Expect your children to have questions. Encourage them to ask anything on their minds, and answer their questions honestly. Dr. Guttman advises, “Don’t make promises to children that you can’t keep. Reassure them about what you know, and be honest about what you don’t.” For instance, if you’re certain they’ll be staying in the family home, reassure them of that fact. If you’re uncertain, convey that you’ll do your best, but you’re unsure. It’s perfectly fine to admit when you don’t have all the answers, but make sure to let them know that you’ll find out and keep them informed.
7. Keep the Lines of Communication Open
Let your children know that they can always come to you with their feelings or concerns, even after the initial conversation. Monica Foley, M.Ed., a Children and Family Counselor at Child Development Institute, emphasizes, “the worst thing you can do is act like nothing is happening between the two of you.[…]Even if you have some pent-up emotions about your spouse, this doesn’t mean that you should shy away from the topic with your child[ren].” Foster an environment of open dialogue and active listening. Regularly check in with your kids to ask how they are handling things. This communicates to them that it’s perfectly okay to talk about the divorce and their feelings.
8. Avoid Blaming or Bad Mouthing
Avoid blaming each other or badmouthing your spouse during this conversation or in front of your children in general. If your spouse has hurt you, it can be hard to avoid negativity. However, it’s important to remember that it’s even more difficult for kids when you belittle your spouse. Monica Foley, M.Ed., advises to “be fair when discussing the other parent. […] It’s painful for kids to be pressured to take sides. Try to find the strength to be civil towards each other.” Negative comments about the other parent can cause emotional harm to children, not only during the divorce process but throughout their lives.
9. Encourage Seeking Peer Support
Therapist Dr. Guttman advises parents to “encourage [their children] to get support from their peers and/or take advantage of a peer support group that may be offered by the school.” Help your children identify the School Counselor or search for a support group in your church or community centers. “You need to make sure they don’t experience shame around the divorce. Communication reduces the risk of embarrassment or shame,” she explains.
10. Keep a Steady Routine
After announcing the divorce, strive to maintain as much consistency and routine as possible in your children’s lives. A predictable schedule can offer them a sense of stability during a challenging time. HelpGuide.org underscores the importance of “maintaining routine, including observing rules, rewards, and discipline with your children.” Kids feel safer and more secure when they can anticipate what comes next. Knowing that even as they move between homes, there’s a familiar sequence like dinner, homework, and bath time can help ease their minds. Also, resist the temptation to spoil kids during a divorce by not enforcing limits or allowing them to break rules.
Announcing your divorce to your children is a pivotal moment in the process, and how you handle it can significantly impact their emotional well-being. By approaching the conversation with honesty, empathy, and support, you can help your children understand the situation and adapt to the changes ahead. Remember that seeking professional guidance can also be valuable in ensuring a smoother transition for your family.
Do you find yourself facing a tough decision on ending your marriage? If you’ve been contemplating divorce but aren’t sure how to begin, Klein Law Group is ready to assist you. Our team of divorce attorneys understands the significance of empathy and respect as we support you through this difficult journey. Reach out to us at 561.353.2800 to connect with one of our skilled attorneys today. Alternatively, you can send us a message now to request assistance in scheduling your free consultation.