Tell The Kids Divorce – But How? And When?

Submitted By Mark Dodds:

Your relationship is coming apart and you’re stressed out. You realize that sooner or later you will have to face your children and let them know what is going on.

If your at the point where you need to tell your children about your divorce (or separation which will definitely lead to divorce), keep these ideas in mind during your first few conversations with the kids:

  • Both parents should talk to the children together, if you can do so calmly and reasonably.
  • Do not be surprised if your children seem shocked by the news. Even in families where parents have been fighting, children often secretly hope that divorce will not happen to them.
  • Do be prepared to listen carefully to your children’s feelings – which may include being very angry at you, sad, or scared.
  • Know before you talk with the children what will happen next. Children need the concrete details – where will I live, when will I see each parent, will I go to the same school.
  • Be sensitive to the number of changes you are causing for your children due to divorce, and (whenever possible),keep as many important parts of a child’s life steady (for example, school, contact with grandparents, friends).

When you do talk to your child, tell them in words that he or she will understand, for example:

With your three-year old you might say:

Mommy and Daddy will both always love you and take care of you, even if we will be living in different houses.

With your ten-year old, you might add:

A divorce does not change our job as parents. We will both be involved with you at school, helping you with your homework, going to see your games ….

Be sure to emphasize the following points:

1. Parenthood is forever – while parents can divorce one another they do not divorce their children. Except in the most severe cases (for example, extremes of physical abuse where a court has not allowed visitation by the abusing parent) parents should work to reassure the child that both parents will remain present in the child’s life -and then each parent must cooperate and work hard to ensure that the promise is kept.

2. Children are never at fault or to blame for the parents divorce. Children often feel themselves responsible for parental divorce – it is your job to help your child understand that is not the case. If you sense your child is worried about feeling he or she caused the divorce in some way, reassure your child with words like: You did not do anything which caused mom and dad to divorce. Divorce is about grownups problems, not about you.

3. Mom and Dad did not fall out of love. If you can fall out of love with your partner, why not your child? Speak about the reasons for your divorce in a simple, but non-specific and non-blaming way, which emphasizes problems or differences which could not be resolved or worked through. If true, you can add that divorce is happening after both parents worked very hard to try to make the marriage work.

4. Children cannot fix this problem. Many children believe if they are only good, better, smarter, nicer, kinder, quieter …, that their parents will come back together. Reassure your child that just as he or she did not cause the divorce, they cannot change it.

5. Children should not have to take sides. Children must be allowed to continue to love both Mommy and Daddy even when Mommy and Daddy cant stand each other.

Do not forget that children can be very resilient in the face of change or adversity. In the short term, divorce might be a disaster for them, but in the long run most will cope and eventually thrive, especially if both parents, (but sometimes even one) are supportive.

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