This is a tough situation for both you (and your spouse) and your children. All situations are unique and these are intended to be general guidelines only. If possible, we recommend that you confer with a family therapist before telling the kids about your divorce and consider the therapist’s advice.
WHEN – Tell your children only after you have made a final decision to separate or divorce. Children should never be placed “in the middle of” parents, and it is not appropriate to put your children in a position to offer an opinion.
Break the news on a non-school day, when you have uninterrupted time available to spend with your children.
Try not to tell too many other people before talking to your children. Out of respect for them, it is important that they hear of the news from you and not from someone else. This is especially true for teen-aged children. If other people need to be told, do this on a separate occasion. Your children deserve the chance to speak with you as a family unit.
WHERE – It is important to speak to your children in a safe place where they will be comfortable to feel what comes naturally and to have the support of what is familiar. For example, talking to them in your home as opposed to a more public place is always a better option. Talking to them in your home will allow them access to leave or take a break if they need to, as well as have the space to express themselves.
If you do not have ideal conditions to speak with your children, do your best to find a private space where you will have as much time as you need.
HOW– Do your best to keep the explanation simple, straight forward, and appropriate for the child’s age, maturity and temperament. Feelings of blame, guilt and anger should not be included in your explanation.
Be truthful with your children, but do not discuss issues about money and extramarital affairs.
Reassure your children that you love them, that you will always be their parents, and that the divorce was not their fault. Convey to the children that your family will get through this and offer to support them through this adjustment.
Acknowledge your children’s feelings and let them know that their feelings will be considered when making important decisions. If your children have difficulty expressing their feelings help them put their feelings into words.
Anticipate their questions and practice your answers to those questions. Help your children understand what will change and what will not.
Give your children permission to react in whatever way feels comfortable to them.
Acknowledge to each other and to your children that news of divorce can invoke a range of different emotions, which is both typical and to be expected. Try not to take their reactions personally.
Speaking to a child individually can be helpful and important. This is especially important to consider if there is a child or children in your family who may require some special attention and time talking to you about your decision to divorce.
In the interest of your children, you are still a team. Toward that end, putting adult differences aside is critical to minimizing the negative effects of divorce on children. Do your best to model appropriate behavior for children, and avoid doing anything – either deliberately or by omission – that encourages children to “take sides”.
Divorce puts children in a place of having to accept changes that affect them and that are not under their control. This can be disruptive and unsettling. Give your children relevant information as it is decided to help prepare them for changes in their lives including where and with whom they will live.
Consider seeking support and guidance from a psychologist who regularly works with children and families. Mental health professionals can help you to develop a parenting plan, assess family dynamics, and make targeted suggestions based on each family member’s needs.
Why – They deserve to know. Talking to them will help them process and adjust to the changes that lie ahead. Starting a process of dialogue will promote future conversations to monitor how they are doing.
Divorce is a family-centered change that while initiated by parents, has the potential to affect children tremendously. Keeping your children appropriately informed will help to minimize their insecurities, and reassure them that you are still there as their parents.