A divorce proceeding is an emotionally charged subject for the entire family. You may be experiencing a range of negative emotions yourself – and, chances are, your children are, too. Even if your divorce is amicable, it will affect everyone in your family. Knowing how to talk to your child about divorce will make the process smoother and allow them to heal.
Consider these strategies for talking with your children about an impending divorce.
1: Tell Them Ahead of Time
If possible, tell your children about the divorce 2-3 weeks before you and your spouse formally separate. This will give them time to process the news and get ready for the steps that come next. Follow some basic best practices when breaking the news:
- Tell them together, if possible. This shows your children that you’re still willing to work as a team to make the experience as smooth as possible. Some parents find it beneficial to rehearse together so they can avoid getting angry with one another throughout the course of the conversation.
- Pick a time when it’s quiet, there’s a lot of downtime, and you have nothing to do afterward. Your children need time to digest the news and ask questions. If possible, have the conversation at the beginning of a weekend and make no plans so your children can approach you to talk.
- Inform your children’s teachers shortly before you tell the kids, so they know what to expect in the days to come. Even in the best of circumstances children can act up or become withdrawn when they learn of their parents splitting up. Ask your children’s teachers to be sensitive to your children’s needs at this time, but also not to bring up the subject unless the child mentions it first.
2: Know What to Say
For most parents, the toughest part of breaking the news is not when to say it, but how. If you and your spouse are struggling to talk to your kids about the divorce, you’re not alone. Keep a few key elements in mind as you talk to your children, both in the moments during and months following your initial conversation:
- You and your spouse have spent a long time trying to make this better, but this was the result.
- This is a decision that you and your spouse came to, and it does not have anything to do with your children.
- You and your spouse do not blame one another, so your children can and should go on loving both as they always had.
- It’s normal to feel sad, angry, worried, or curious – but’s it’s also best to talk about these feelings rather than holding them inside.
- You are all still a family – it will just look a little differently in the future. You and your spouse will always be their parents.
Certain aspects may complicate matters or merit a deeper discussion – for example, if one parent is moving away to seek other job prospects. If one parent moves, even to another town, this can be traumatic for your children. Reassure them that they’ll continue to see both of you regularly, and be prepared to illustrate with examples.
3: Seek Additional Help If You Need It
Even with the best intentions, a conversation about your divorce can be emotionally difficult for your children. Each child reacts to trauma in different ways, and some might act out or show signs of depression, anxiety, or other mental health problems. If any of your children’s behavior changes drastically or you notice warning signs such as insomnia or disruptions in school, seek professional help for your child. Sometimes, children feel more comfortable talking to someone else about what they’re feeling instead of you.