The first things you should consider when getting a divorce is how, when and what to tell your children. The way the information is delivered will set the tone for a child’s response. Children will naturally be anxious and worried. You need to keep in mind that your kids will need to know that:
- You still love them no matter what;
- Neither you or the other parent are rejecting them;
- They are not the cause of the divorce;
- They still have a family even though their parents are no longer together;
- There is a reason for the divorce (and have an explanation ready – with not too many details).
Tips For Talking To Your Kids To Help Them Through A Divorce
Timing – Talking to your kids about divorce should happen sooner rather than later. If possible, it is best to tell your kids together. Try to discuss what you want to tell them beforehand. This will avoid the kids hearing two different versions of events.
Even though the marital relationship is dissolving, they need to feel a sense of trust in the parental relationship. You may begin by saying “For a long time, Mum and Dad have not been getting along. We have tried in lots of ways to make our marriage happier, but we are still not happy with each other. We have decided not to live together and get a divorce”.
Some things will need to change and other things will stay the same. Children may want to know who they will live with, when they will see each of you and where they will go to school. If you know the answers, tell them then, otherwise be honest and promise to tell them once it is sorted out.
Reassure your child. Tell them that it is okay to feel sad because they will sometimes miss the other parent. Ensure they feel a sense of security.
Most children older than four or five years old feel somehow responsible for the divorce. Remind them that the divorce has nothing to do with anything naughty them may have done in the past and how proud of them you both are.
Reassure them that you are both considering their feelings too when making important decisions and that things will begin to improve. Tell them how much you both love them and always will.
Be honest. Try to be as honest as possible with your kids. Small kids can get confused with too many details so try to keep your explanations simple but truthful.
Important decisions such as living arrangements should be shared as soon as they’re made.
Accept anger and disappointment. Listen to how your kids are feeling and know that it is natural for them to have these emotions. Again reassure them that you both love them and that they will still have special and fun times with them.
Be fair when discussing the other parent. Unless your former partner has a history of harming your kids, it is harder on them if you belittle your spouse.
It is painful for kids to be pressured to take sides and listen to an enraged parent. Try to find the strength to be civil towards and about each other. While you may not feel like it, it will be far kinder to your child and less painful for them to deal with.
Kids know that they are a part of both of you. It is hurtful for them to hear awful things about the other parent as it is also a part that belongs to them.
Provide stability. Although major changes may need to happen like moving towns and jobs, try to maintain your kids familiar routines as much as possible. For example, keep bedtimes, meal times and having friends over consistent. Kids feel their safest in a familiar environment.
Remember to give your kids lots of affection to reassure them of your love and support. Make changes in their lives slowly and let them share how they feel about the changes. Praise them for making an effort to help with the changes.
Allow your kids to maintain a positive relationship with both parents and show your kids that you trust them to adapt to the changes.
Be flexible. You may need to alter your explanations depending on the age of your kids and the information they desire. Chances are, older children may not be too surprised about the divorce as they have sensed unsettled feelings for some time. They may be relieved in some ways that it is being aired.
Be open and approachable. Be prepared to revisit discussions with your kids often. Even if you’ve talked a lot in the beginning, tell your kids they can talk to you about the divorce whenever they need to. You may sometimes ask them how they are coping. When you instigate the conversation occasionally it gives them the message that it is okay to talk about the divorce.
Never ask your child to deliver a message. If you need to talk to your ex-spouse about something, tell them yourself or write them a letter. It is terribly unfair to use a child as a buffer and put them in an awkward situation.
Show lots of support. Support your child’s need to visit their other parent and their desire to love you both. Tell them it is ok and you support this. It will help them to cope even better.
A Few DON’TS:
- never ask your kids which parent they love more;
- never use your kids as a counselor – find an adult to fulfill these needs for you.
Always – stop and think about how your words may affect your kids. When your kids are old enough to understand what you have been through, they will admire and appreciate you even more for caring about their needs.