Divorce is charged with emotion, and that emotion escalates when kids are involved. Knowing how to talk to your kids about divorce is perhaps the most difficult part of the whole journey. But it’s also one of the most important parts. Kids need extra care and attention during a divorce. Keep reading for 14 tips gathered from expert sources on how to approach the tough topic of divorce with your kids. And remember that talking about divorce with your kids doesn’t just refer to the initial conversation where you will break the news. Kids need thoughtful, reassuring, and nurturing conversations throughout the whole divorce process! Whether you have a toddler or a teenager, keep these foundational principles in mind as you help your child navigate the life changes ahead:
Plan what you will say. Experts at Parents.com suggests covering these essential messages, adapted for your own unique situation and reworded to be the most age-appropriate for your kids:
- “You know that Mom and Dad have been having problems. We’ve tried to fix this, but things aren’t working out.”
- “We both love you very much. Nothing will ever change that love or the fact that we will always be here for you.”
- “We will always be your mom and dad. But we aren’t going to be husband and wife anymore. Your dad [or mom] and I are getting a divorce.”
- “You are great kids. It is our fault that this is happening — not yours.”
- “Even though things are going to change, we will always be a family.”
- Wait until your divorce is certain. Don’t talk to your kids about it until you know your divorce is definitely happening. Children do not do well with uncertainty.
- Help your child avoid blaming themselves. Remind your child that it’s not their fault and assure your child that the decision to divorce had nothing to do with them.
- Present a united perspective. Parents.com suggests that you and your soon-to-be-ex should sit together to talk to your kids.
- Think through how to best address your kids. Experts usually suggest addressing the entire family at once and later talking with kids individually for more in-depth, age-appropriate discussions and answering questions. However, if you feel that an older child might react in a way that will upset younger children, it might be best to start by talking to each child individually.
- Avoid accusations and fighting in front of the kids. Even if the divorce wasn’t a joint decision, don’t accuse each other in front of your kids.
- Spare your younger children the details, especially if there was an extramarital affair, serious financial problems, addiction, or abuse involved. Don’t discuss gritty details of your divorce or legal matters when your children are within earshot.
- Let your kids know they will be cared for. Help your kids feel confident that you and your ex will still be able to work together as a parenting team. Be aware that younger kids especially might have a hard time differentiating between a parent separating from parent vs. parent separating from child. In their minds, a phrase such as “Daddy is moving out,” might be misinterpreted as “Daddy is leaving you.”
- Provide concrete assurance. Younger kids especially will need to know tangible details like where they will live, where their pets will live, where they will go to school, and what will stay normal (such as upcoming plans, birthday parties, vacations, etc).
- Keep things as normal as possible. With younger kids, stick to their normal routines (such as bedtime, meals, bathtime, time with friends, etc).
- Be open to questions and expect mixed reactions. It’s normal for kids to cry, be angry and yell or slam doors, or just want to be alone. It’s also normal for kids to ask questions about how their life will change. Expect to need to have more discussions and answer more questions down the road.
- Remember it’s not about you! Approach every divorce-related conversation with the focus on your child’s wellbeing and assurance of your love for them, says Parents.com.
- Be on the lookout for unusual behavior, recommends Today’s Parent, which will be different depending on your child’s age. Consider professional counseling for both yourself and your kids.
- Take care of yourself! Don’t try to navigate this alone. There are countless helpful resources like the ones listed above that can help you find the healthiest and most empowering way forward for both you and your kids.
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