The dissolution of a marriage always involves strong emotions for the people who are in the thick of it. This is also true for the children. It can often feel like their whole world is turning upside down when they learn that their parents are getting divorced. In this stressful, sad, and truly confusing stage, it’s important that you as a parent understand what you need to do to make the transition a bit easier for the kids.
How to Tell the Kids
Whatever age they are in, or however they’ve witnessed the struggles of the marriage, the news of a divorce will always be a big one. The conversation, of course, has to fit the maturity and temperament level of the children, but it’s important that they remember that the divorce is only between the two parents and not between parent and child.
Tell Them Together
It’s ideal that both parents are present when breaking the news to the kids. There may be a lot of questions during this time and having both parents explain will lessen the shock.
Keep Anger Out
If both parents are present when the kids are told, it’s also important to keep in mind that feelings like anger, regret, blame, and guilt should not be part of the conversation. It’s an understandably stressful time for everyone, but with these emotions, the conversation can only get worse.
Although you don’t have to disclose the exact reasons for the divorce (particularly if it involves blaming each other), it’s important to stay as truthful as possible. Answer questions as honestly as you can, but still careful not to aggravate the situation.
How to Handle Their Reaction
According to Web MD, children often have ‘egocentric’ thoughts surrounding the divorce. They may easily slip into the mindset of blaming themselves and their actions for the resulting separation. This is why it’s recommended that you explicitly tell them it’s not their fault.
Acknowledge their Emotions
Whether the kids are sad, angry, confused, or grief-stricken after hearing about the divorce, parents should encourage them to share these feelings. It’s also important to tell children that these emotions are normal reactions and that it’s okay to feel that way. You have to let them know that they don’t have to go through these emotions alone, and that you’ll both be there to help them process them.
Be Ready for Questions
To lessen the confusion and stress surrounding the situation, encourage them to ask questions regarding the divorce. You may not be able to cover everything they’re worried about if they do not voice these worries out.
Here are a few common questions that you may likely encounter.
- Where will each parent live?
- Who will I live with?
- Will I move?
- Where will I go to school?
- Will I still see both parents?
- Will I still see my friends?
- Where will I spend the holidays?
- What else will change?
Although you may not have all the answers when they ask, it’s important to tell them as much as possible and to show them that you have given this decision ample thought.
General Dos and Don’ts
After dealing with the initial shock of telling the children, there is still much to do to help them cope with the divorce. Here are a few general tips.
- Don’t fight in front of the children. It can be difficult with all the emotions, but at least not in front of the kids.
- Do settle financial and legal matters in a civil manner, away from the children. Consider talking to a family attorney for advice.
- Don’t badmouth your ex. Don’t make your children feel guilty for spending time or caring for the other parent.
- Do encourage your kids to spend time with both parents. Encourage them to share news and keep the other parent informed.
- Don’t snoop through your kids. There’s a line between asking about their time with the other parent and wanting to know what goes on there.
- Do be accessible when your children want to share how they feel about the divorce or other matters.
How to Help Them Adjust
According to Psychology Today, many children still find it difficult to adjust to this monumental shift in their lives mainly because they are getting mixed signals from their parents.
They may want to spend holidays together with both parents present but this will only make the adjustment period more confusing and longer. This also risks shaking the child’s trust and may end up making them more dependent.
It is recommended that you show your children how things have changed and that these changes are permanent.