With divorce rates in America topping over 50%, the sad truth is that many parents will be faced with telling their children they are getting divorced.
Divorce can have negative effects on children but based on how it is handled, divorce can also have the potential of making family situations better.
Kids are smart. Because the relationship has likely already shown signs of trouble, the news may not come as a complete shock to them.
Some kids may even feel a confusing sense of relief. How and when to tell children is an important factor, however. Here are some guidelines to help.
1. Decide ahead of time when, where, and how to break the news to your children.
Choose a time that will allow them ample opportunity to absorb the news when they do not have to rush off to school or sports activities. Divorce is a big change and often represents loss.
Deliver the news with the same sensitivity you might use if telling someone about a death. Divorce is a death of the current relationship and like death it may bring up many feelings.
2. Ideally, it is best for parents to notify their kids together and keep a united front.
Let the kids know that ‘we’ made this decision and ‘we’ are doing what we feel will have the best outcome in the end. Do not blame one parent over another even if you feel the other parent is to blame.
What is important now isn’t whose fault it is. What is important is getting through this time as gently as possible.
3. Deliver the news as calmly and sensitively as possible.
If you are a blubbering basket case, you will be more likely to frighten your children. On the flip-side, if you act like a robot, they may get the message that you don’t care.
Children have their own feelings yet they will be inclined to follow your lead so be kind, sensitive, approachable, and calm.
The more confidence you have that this is what you must do, the more likely your kids will find confidence, too.
4. Give kids a basic reason why without putting blame on either party.
“We’ve been fighting too much and we need to live apart so we can stop hurting each other.” If you don’t give kids a reason why, they may make it up that the divorce is because of them.
Do not get into too much detail or blame, however. Do not say, “Your father is a liar and has been having an affair.” Being negative on either parent won’t help the kids.
The truth will come out in time so for now, take the high road. Do give some reason that is about both of you.
Taking responsibility for the fact that the problem lies with you and your spouse makes it clear that it has nothing to do with the kids.
5. Reassure the kids that while some things will change, many things will not.
This is not just your divorce, this is their divorce, too Kids need to feel safe. Let them know they will still have both parents in their life.
“We both love you and will continue to spend time with you. Everything will be ok.”
6. Invite their questions.
Let them ask you any questions they have and invite them to talk to you at any time. It is important that kids feel invited to talk about their feelings or concerns.
Emotions often come up later so let them know it’s ok for them to talk with you. Invite it.
7. Check in with your kids from time to time.
Despite your best efforts to make them feel safe to come to you, some kids will bottle up their emotions. Even if it annoys them, ask them how they are doing once in a while.
Offer to speak with a third party or therapist if they would like to. Keeping the channels of communication open is your job as the parent and, as the adult, be the one to take the initiative to check in with how your kids are doing.
8. Get support from other adults, not your children.
In the event you are having an especially difficult time, do not turn to your kids for support.
While you are a human being and deserving of support of your own, it’s your job to be there for your kids, not vice versa.
Turn to a friend, family member, therapist, or hot-line if you are having an unusually difficult day.
Divorce may be one of the most challeging changes you have ever experienced and it is perfectly understandable that as the person going through it, you may need additional support.
No matter how tempting, however, get this support from adults rather than kids.
Even in divorce, most relationships don’t end, they change. The purpose of divorce is to allow for a different type of relationship, ideally one as co-parents rather than husband and wife.
No matter how hurt your feelings may be, it is always better for kids if their parents can have a mature, civil, and amicable relationship going forward.
Divorce is about changing the terms of your current relationship in order to hopefully have a better relationship than you’ve had.
How you and your spouse handle this change can make things easier or harder on your children and easier or harder on you. When sharing the news with your kids, try to be calm, kind, and confident that things will turn out for the better.
About the author
Faith Deeter received her Masters Degree in Clinical Psychology from Antioch University in Santa Barbara. She opened a successful private counseling practice which she continues to this day.
Today, Faith’s work in counseling, coaching, and personal development combine the world of traditional psychology, and Natural Principles to help people transform their self-confidence, leadership ability, personal and professional relationships, and personal achievement.
For more information visit, www.faithdeeter.com.