When a marriage starts, both parties are committed to making their relationship a “happily ever after.” But, unfortunately, that just can’t happen every time. 40%-50% of marriages in the US end in divorce. And a lot of kids are caught in those crossfires.
If you make the decision to divorce while your children are still young, you might not have to have a complicated discussion yet. However, school-aged children are old enough to understand that something is changing. They deserve the chance to sit down with you and discuss this major shift in their lives.
Talking to kids about divorce can be hard. Emotions will run high, so it’s important that you keep a level head and plan what you’re going to say before you sit down to talk.
Here are our seven tips for talking to kids about divorce.
1. Time it Right
If you and your spouse are talking about a separation or a divorce, don’t talk about it in front of your kids until you know for certain. While it might seem like a good idea and be honest, they uncertainty will just cause an issue of confusion for your child.
There isn’t ever a good time to talk about divorce, but there are bad times. Don’t talk about your upcoming divorce on school days, before you go to work, just as your child is heading into an activity, or before bed. News like that leads a child to feel alone and unsafe.
You need to make sure you can be there to help them through that. Choose a moment when you’ll be together afterward.
2. Tag Team It
Even if you and your spouse can’t get it together for anything else, try to agree on what you’re going to tell your child.
If you can, break this news as a team. If you both tell your child at the same time, you avoid confusion. When you give them one version of the story and tell them that it was a joint decision, they start to develop a better understanding of the situation.
Also, and more importantly, it shows that your children can still trust both parents.
However, if you think there’s even a chance of an argument breaking out between the pair of you, have the talk separate.
3. Simplicity is Key
Discuss this issue with your child in age-appropriate terms. Limit your explanation to no more than a few short, important sentences.
Something as some as “mom and dad have been thinking,” and then explaining what you can about the separation. Tell them who will be moving out and let them know that they will still be able to see both parents.
If your child has been witness to a lot of arguing, now is the best time to tell them that the fighting should stop and that you’re just trying to do what’s best for them and the family.
Here’s an example of age-appropriate dialogue for your grade school child:
“Mommy and daddy have done a lot of thinking lately. You know how we have been arguing a lot and we just can’t get along? Well, Daddy is going to spend some time living on his own for a while. You’ll still get to see Daddy when he isn’t at work and on weekends.”
4. Ensure Them That It’s Not Their Fault
This is probably one of the most important tips we could give you. Children are egocentric. They believe that the world revolves around them, that’s just a natural part of being a child. But this comes with a lot of self-blaming as well.
It’s so common for children to blame themselves for a breakup, even if they don’t mention it to you. Your child may think the change is happening because they didn’t clean up or do well in school. This will lead to your child trying to fix the problem.
Make sure that they know flat out that it has nothing to do with them, and that the divorce is an adult decision. Tell them you’re sorry it happened, and help them move on.
5. Don’t Play the Blame Game
It doesn’t matter how angry you get at your spouse, you cannot blame them for the breakup. When you talk to a child about their other parent’s less than stellar behavior, you send a message that is critical of them.
Children are half a product of their mom and their dad, and they take that split very seriously. If you start to call their other half a “cheat” or a “liar” they’re going to start to see that in themselves as well.
Don’t argue in front of your children and keep any details about financial problems or affairs away from them. Whatever you say about the other parent reflects onto them.
6. No Details
Keep your divorce papers away from your child, don’t discuss legal issues where your child can hear you and don’t coach your children through what they should say in a custody evaluation.
Divorce is a legal matter that should be held in a legal setting. Don’t let your children overhear you on the phone or arguing in front of them.
7. Prepare For Questions
After you break the news to your child, you should be prepared to answer a lot of questions. Here are a few you can expect to hear and how to handle them.
Why Are You Getting Divorced?
When you get this question, don’t go into detail and keep your emphasis on “we.” You want your child to understand that even though this is something that will separate you, you are still a team.
Also, don’t say that you don’t love each other anymore. That shows your child that it’s possible to fall out of love, and their next worry might be that you’ll fall out of love with them.
Explain to them that sometimes things don’t work out and you’re doing something that will help the family in the long run.
I Miss Mom/Dad!
Assuming your marriage wasn’t abusive or full of fighting, your child won’t be happy that you’re divorcing. Their ideal world is one where both of you can be together at all times. Don’t be upset or take it personally when they miss their other parent.
Who Will Take Care of Mommy/Daddy/Me?
Your children are likely empathetic enough to worry about the other parent who is moving out. If they’re worried that no one will be there to take care of you or the other parent, let them know that they will be okay.
It’s also incredibly important that when your child expresses concern over who will take care of them, you take every measure possible to show them how loved they will be at both houses.
Talking to Kids About Divorce
No one enjoys the process of getting a divorce, but this is especially true of school-aged children.
Talking to kids about divorce is a difficult task that needs to be done when you are ready to handle their tough questions. But if you can show them just how loved they are, slowly but surely you can all begin to heal.
Divorce is hard, but we’re here to help. For more information about handling your divorce, visit us today.