Telling your kids that you’re getting a divorce is heart-wrenching and terrifying. Beyond the initial announcement, it can be confusing to figure out how to discuss divorce-related topics on a daily basis without overwhelming or upsetting your child.
Your goals are to transmit information in a calm and loving way, to answer questions that your children may have, and to reassure them that you and your co-parent love them deeply.
There are some logistical issues that you and your co-parent have to decide before the announcement: your kids will need to know how they will be dividing time between parents and what major changes will occur. Hopefully you’ve been able to decide some of these basic issues before telling your children about your divorce. If not, tell them what you do know and that you’ll tell them more as you figure it out.
Both parents should try to speak in a calm tone, without intense or out-of-control displays of emotion. The goal is to show that the divorce is the best choice for everyone, although it is a sad situation. Crying may be unavoidable and can even show the child that you take the divorce seriously and understand how hard it will be. However, if a parent gets loud or loses control, it can scare the children and teach them to associate the divorce with fear and trauma.
Here are some simple points for you to cover during your announcement of the divorce. A moment that most, if not all, children remember for their whole lives.
- Don’t tell the children in advance that a discussion is coming up. They will be very anxious and ruminate about it. Instead, say, “Daddy/Mommy and I need to talk to you now,” right before the talk.
- Tell all siblings at the same time, so that no child feels that they are less important than the others. Furthermore, knowing that your parents are divorcing is a large burden to carry alone, even for a few days or hours.
- Don’t tell friends or family members about the divorce before you tell the children. Hearing about a divorce second hand is very upsetting for kids and can stop them from trusting you in the future.
- Don’t have the discussion in a public place, where a child’s reactions may embarrass him/her, or where he/she don’t feel free to ask questions.
- Try to stay physically close to your kids, to comfort them. Small children can sit on your lap if they want. Older children may appreciate a hand on their shoulder.
- Do not have the discussion on a special occasion, like a holiday, which may ruin this holiday for your children in the future.
- Try to have the discussion when the kids aren’t tired, sick, or hungry, so that they can process what’s happening and they are not as emotionally volatile.
- Don’t tell the kids at a time when you won’t be there to process the information with them afterwards. Do not choose a weekday morning before they head to school, right before an activity, or bedtime.
- Don’t have other people in the house or expect your child to interact with others right after the discussion. Your child may want privacy after the announcement.
- Don’t use sarcasm. Small kids don’t understand it, and it has no place in this discussion. Be respectful of the seriousness of this announcement for your child.
- Don’t tell your children if you’re not 100 percent sure that you’re going to divorce. If you still feel you may reconcile with your spouse, you must say that you’re “separating, which means living separately” rather than “divorcing.”
Although divorce is very hard for all involved, following these tips can limit the chances of your initial announcement leaving your kids feeling abandoned, disoriented, or betrayed. Additionally, these initial points will set the stage for later, more in-depth discussions in the future.
Excerpted from How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce: Healthy, Effective Communication Techniques for Your Changing Family Copyright © 2015 by Dr. Samantha Rodman and published by F+W Media, Inc. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.