Telling your kids that you are getting divorced may be one of the hardest conversations of your life. It’s difficult enough that you have decided to divorce, and then you still have to communicate the news to your innocent children. The last thing you want to do is cause pain to your kids, but inevitably the divorce is going to be very painful for all of you. So the way you talk about it with your children can make all the difference, and it is worth putting in some careful forethought and planning before you break the news to them. This article will discuss some general guidelines as well as some age appropriate ways of talking to kids about divorce.
Know what you are going to say
Although spontaneity is a good virtue to have, there are times when it is better to have your points very clearly in place – and telling your kids you are getting divorce is definitely one such time. Sit down beforehand and decide what you are going to say and how you will phrase it. Write it out if necessary and run through it a few times. Keep it short, simple and clear so that there is no confusion or doubt about what you are saying. Regardless of your children’s ages, they need to be able to understand the basic message.
Key points to stress
Depending on your particular situation and the ages of your children, either they may have been expecting this kind of message, or it may come as a complete bolt out of the blue. Either way, some shock waves are inevitable and some questions and fears are sure to arise unbidden in their minds. So you can help to pre-empt some of these by stressing the following key points:
- We both love you very much: You child may think that because you have stopped loving each other you no longer love your children. Assure them repeatedly that this is not the case and that nothing will ever change your parental love or the fact that you will always be there for them.
- We will always be your parents: Even though you will no longer be husband and wife, you will always be the mother and father of your children.
- None of this is your fault: Children instinctively tend to take the blame for the divorce, somehow thinking that they must have done something to cause trouble in the home. This is serious false guilt which can cause untold harm in future years if not nipped in the bud. So reassure your children that this is an adult decision which is not their fault at all.
- We are still a family: Although things are going to change, and your children will have two different homes, this doesn’t change the fact that you are still a family.
Do it all together
If possible it is best to talk to your kids about the divorce together so that they can see both Mom and Dad have made this decision and they are presenting it as a united front. If you have two or more children, choose a time when you can sit them all down together and tell them all at the same time. Thereafter it may be necessary to spend some one on one time for further explanations with individual children as needed. But the initial communication should include all the children to avoid any burden of those who know having to keep the ‘secret’ from those who don’t know yet.
Expect mixed reactions
After you have shared the news that you are going to divorce, you can expect that your children will have mixed reactions. This will depend to a large extent on the personality of the child as well as your particular situation and the details which have lead up to the divorce decision. Another determinant of their reactions would be according to their age:
- Birth to five years: The younger the child is the less they will be able to grasp about the implications of the divorce. So when communicating with preschoolers you would need to keep to very simple and concrete explanations. These would include the facts of which parent is moving out, who will look after the child, where the child will live and how often they will see the other parent. Keep on answering their questions with short clear answers.
- Six to eight years: Children at this age have started gaining the ability to think and talk about their feelings but still have a limited ability to understand complex issues such as divorce. It is important to try and help them understand and to keep giving answers to whatever questions they may have.
- Nine to eleven years: As their cognitive abilities expand, children in this age group can tend to see things in black and white which may result in them assigning blame for the divorce. An indirect approach may be needed to get them to express their thoughts and feelings. It can sometimes be helpful to get children this age to read simple books about divorce.
- Twelve to fourteen: Teenagers have a more developed capacity to understand the issues related to your divorce. They will be able to ask deeper questions and enter into in depth discussions. At this age it is vital to keep the lines of communication open. Although they may at times seem to be rebellious and resentful towards you, they still very much need and want a close relationship with you.
It’s an ongoing conversation
Very seldom is talking to kids about divorce a once off event. It is an ongoing conversation which needs to evolve at the child’s pace. As they come up with further questions, doubts or fears, you need to be there to constantly reassure them and try to set their minds at rest in every way possible.