Often, when parents decide to divorce, the hardest part of all is deciding how to tell the children. If parents have stayed together longer than they may have otherwise, just “for the sake of the children,” this makes the announcement even harder. Unfortunately, no matter how they are told, children often react to the news of a divorce with confusion, shock and anger. None of these are easy to deal with, but remaining calm and supportive throughout the discussion will help everyone involved come to terms with this new reality.
Setting the Scene
When you have decided to talk to your kids about divorce, deciding when and where to tell them can be tricky. A few guidelines to follow include telling children:
- At home, not in a public place. Give them the space to react without an audience.
- Without distractions. Turn off the television and put the toys aside.
- When everyone is rested. Don’t attempt to have a serious discussion right before bedtime.
- When everyone is full. Don’t try to compete with rumbling tummies.
Present a United Front
If at all possible, discuss the divorce with both parents present. Prepare an agreed upon explanation beforehand, and while talking with your children remind them that:
- It is not their fault.
- Both parents still love each child very much.
- Both parents will continue to care for and be involved with each child.
- Some things about the family may change, but there is still a family.
Generate a Productive Discussion
Emotions will run high when you talk to your children about an impending divorce, so to help keep everyone calm and focused:
- Be honest. Children pick up on hesitation and are perceptive about lies.
- Be fair. Don’t attempt to lay blame on one parent.
- Ask the kids how they are feeling. Check in with them throughout the discussion and talk about their fears and concerns.
- Answers questions. If you don’t know the answer, don’t be afraid to say so.
- Remind the kids that whatever happens, you will both always be there for them.
Don’t Necessarily Tell the Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth
While it is important to be honest with children about the causes or consequences of a divorce, there is no need to tell them information that does not concern them nor is appropriate for their age or understanding. Things that are best kept to adults include:
- Parents’ attitudes toward each other.
- If a particular behaviour, such as adultery, has spurred the decision.
- Monetary concerns.
- The existence of new partners.
Talking to kids about divorce can be a terrible ordeal. Remaining calm, acknowledging everyone’s feelings and answering all questions is an important part of setting a precedent of productive discussion. During and following this initial discussion children will need love, guidance and reassurance in abundance. Don’t fall into the trap of providing children with material items – clothes, toys, cinema tickets, meals out – to show them your love, instead make sure that each child has plenty of time to spend with each parent. This will never be an enjoyable time, but with a little planning and a lot of patience, it can be bearable.