If you and your spouse have decided to get divorce, you have to be mindful and extremely careful when you tell your children. There is no way to avoid it being one of the worst moments of their lives, but you can help ease them through this difficult period and minimize the fallout. Here are a few helpful guidelines to keep in mind when breaking the news to your children:
- Pick the right time and don’t let them overhear it. If you and your spouse are only “thinking” about separating or divorcing, there is no reason to tell the kids until you know for sure. You want to be able to set up the conditions in which they hear this terrible news as much as possible. So that your kids won’t feel rushed or pressured, deliver the news when you and your children will be able to spend some time together afterwards.
- Break the news together. Telling the kids together prevents confusion from hearing different versions of the story, and more importantly, communicates to them that you and your spouse are still a parenting team. Hopefully this approach will help promote a sense of confidence in the parents’ desire and ability to continue making decisions together.
- Reassure them that the divorce is not their fault. Regardless of how well you tell them, your children may still blame themselves because kids often personalize decisions. It’s imperative to reassure your kids that the divorce has nothing to do with them and that the breakup is out of their control.
- Avoid oversharing and blaming or badmouthing the other parent. Spare your children the details and avoid blaming your spouse for the breakup. Although it may be tempting to disclose information about finances or affairs, keep in mind that this will only create more confusion for your kids. Kids must feel safe and secure in their relationships with each parent in order to have consistently healthy interactions on both sides.
- Tell them that you love them. Explain that while the relationship between grown-ups sometimes changes, a parent’s love will never change, that both of their parents will continue to love them and be with them every step of the way during this time and in the future.
- Define some terms for them. Be straightforward and clear and explain to them in an age-appropriate manner, what divorce is and is not. Sharing details in this manner will demonstrate to the kids that there is a plan in place and both parents are working together to create a climate of support and stability.
- Stay the parents. Maintain routines, boundaries and discipline so that the kids have a feeling of security. Show them that they can still count on the both of you to be parents and take care of them. Try to work together with your spouse to be a united fro with the kids so they continue feeling secure in your parenting. Keep in mind that when parents can’t agree on a course of action, it’s usually the kids who suffer the most.
- Let them feel the way they feel. Let them be sad, angry or confused. There is no wrong way to feel, and these feelings may fluctuate over time. But remember that there is outside help available if you think they need it. Change can be overwhelming and scary for children; it may take them time to come to terms with new living and custody arrangements
- Do not make or let the child become an adult. Make sure that they know it’s not their responsibility to try and fix the marriage. Do not put the child in a position of comforting or becoming a companion of a parent who is now alone. Remember that the emotional needs of your children supersede the needs of the parents, so keep as much of it as you can between the adults.