The thought of telling your kids about your impending divorce may be gut-wrenching, but it’s a conversation that must happen. Be assured — if you handle the conversation tactfully, you can minimize the pain for everyone involved. Having been instrumental in many divorce cases, Collins Family & Elder Law Group knows the strategies that work best with children. Here, we share our advice on how to tell kids about divorce.
Make Sure They Hear The News From You
If you don’t know how to tell your children about your divorce, it can be tempting to turn the responsibility over to someone else, such as a counselor, close friend, or family member. Resist this urge; it is imperative that you and/or your ex personally deliver the news of your separation or divorce to your kids. If they overhear it from someone else, you lose control over the narrative and miss out on a critical trust-building opportunity.
Plan What You’re Going to Say
Start with a script of what you plan to tell the kids and sit down together as a family. It is not necessary to tell your children the details about why you are separating, and they probably won’t even remember what you told them anyway. What they will remember, however, is how you reacted during this conversation and how you made them feel.
Eliminate the Blame From the Narrative
If betrayal is the cause of your divorce, it can be overwhelmingly tempting to assign blame to the other parent and explain to the children that the divorce is their mother or father’s fault. While you might want to tell your children the truth about what happened, it’s not healthy to poison your kids against your ex. They will feel caught in a loyalty bind between the two of you, which will create unnecessary heartache.
You can still tell them the truth of the situation, but try to opt for broader phrases that omit the details, such as, “We aren’t happy together,” or, “We haven’t been able to sort out our differences.” This eliminates the hostile narrative and keeps the peace among family members.
Be Upfront About What’s Happening and How Things Will Change
Once you deliver the news, it’s likely that your children will have a multitude of questions. Kids thrive on schedules and consistency, so it is important for them to know exactly what will remain the same and what they can expect to change. They will want to know who will be leaving the home, when they will get to see each parent, and so on.
Be transparent with your kids about what these changes will look like for their lives. No matter what happens or who lives where, your children need to know that one thing will always remain the same — they are loved and adored by both of their parents.
Remind Them That It’s Not Their Fault
Remind your kids that being a human is inherently hard and messy. Help them understand that people aren’t perfect and that sometimes, couples are not meant to be together forever. Most importantly, you should emphasize that, while there will be some big upcoming changes for everyone, the divorce does not mean you love your kids any less, or that they could have done anything to prevent your separation.
Lend Support, Love, and Reassurance
There is no right or wrong way to react to the news of a divorce. The lives of your children are about to change drastically, and with those big changes come monumental emotions. At the end of your conversation, let your kids know they are loved and that their feelings are normal and valid. Talk to them about how it’s okay to feel sad, mad, heartbroken, confused, and scared; but also reassure them that you will still support one another as a family.
Understand That Kids Are Resilient
Finally, take a deep breath and trust in the resilience of your children. As long as they are loved by you, there is nothing they can’t handle. While it feels like your worlds are falling apart, you and your kids will eventually establish a new normal, with new routines, new favorite ice cream shops, new favorite activities — all the good things in life. While you may not all live under the same roof anymore, you can always be a team.