Talking to Children about Divorce

Here are some simple tips for talking to children about divorce. A dreaded task for most divorcing parents.

Accept that strong emotions are inevitable and focus on ways to make your talk an opportunity to do your children good. By following these tips on talking to children about divorce you can eliminate many fears and concerns that can cause long term emotional damage in children of divorce.

Choose the right time for talking to children about divorce

How Do I Tell The Kids? How Do I Tell The Kids?
  • The sooner you talk to your children about divorce, the better. Even infants and toddlers can sense a change in parents which may be causing undue anxiety.
  • Talk to children about divorce before any major changes take place. This makes it clear that they can trust you to be open and upfront. Divorce is not going to be all nasty surprises.
  • Choose a time which will not interfere with your children's usual activities and events. One of the keys to helping children cope with divorce is maintaining routines.

Get support for talking to children about divorce

  • When chosen a time for the talk about divorce, instruct friends and family not to contact or call. After your talk, both you and your children will need time for reflection. You need to be 100% available to answer further questions or give them a hug, not discussing with others.
  • If possible both parents together should talk to the children about divorce. It is important to separate marital and parental issues and act as a team. The best way to reassure children that the divorce does not mean the end of the family – that they are not going to lose one of you.
  • If not done together, discuss beforehand to make sure you follow the same “script” and ground rules when talking to to the children. Keep negative thoughts about each other silent.

What to talk about - dos and don'ts

  • Use age-appropriate terms that your children are sure to understand. Explain you are getting a divorce, what divorce means, and address immediate concerns such as who is going to live where.
  • Do not go into detail about your marital problems, if they press, keep it simple.
  • Remember to talk about all the things that will stay the same next to all that will change.
  • Provide key reassurances, that they are not at fault, that neither parent is rejecting them, that both of you love, and will continue to love your children, that they still have a family,including both parents, grandparents and other favorite relatives and that their basic needs will still be met.

Handling emotions

  • Remain calm, confident and in control at all time. Your body language and manner send strong messages to your children about how they should feel about divorce.
  • Be prepared for a strong emotional reaction. If your children become angry or upset, do not become defensive or apologetic. Be honest and sympathize. Agree that this is a difficult, unhappy time. Above all, do not encourage hopes for reconciliation. Stay on track.

Concluding your talk

  • Ask your children about fears or concerns and answer honestly. If you don't know the answer to a particular issue, say so, but assure them you will let them know when you do.
  • Explain that you will always be available to answer questions – and make sure that you are.

After talking to children about divorce they may want some time and space. They may also react positively if you suggest you go out and do something special together. Gauge the mood and act accordingly, and do not feel hurt or anxious if your children are hostile and uncommunicative.

How you talk to your children about divorce will have a strong influence on how they will feel about and cope with your divorce.

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