For good parents who are approaching a divorce, one of the hardest things to do is to tell the children that their parents will be divorcing. Some parents just blurt out the news without much thought, but others really struggle to figure out the best way to explain things so that they will not emotionally devastate the kids. For some children, the divorce is not news at all. But for most children, hearing the words is tough to take.
My best suggestion on how to tell the children is for you to work with a counselor. You can get expert help on what, when and how to say things in a way that is less stressful for the kids.
To supplement that, I would add the following suggestions:
1. Do the right planning. Think about things ahead of time and plan for the best time to allow your kids to process the information and feel safe. Be able to explain how the divorce will affect them. Don’t over promise or guarantee certain outcomes. Don’t discuss issues that haven’t been decided. You may have to sometimes say, “We don’t know, yet.”
2. Do it at the right time. Decide whether you should tell them before someone moves out (probably so), but don’t do it too early (and then continue living together) or too close to the move out (they need time to process). A good time may be at the start of a weekend, so there’s time for the children to talk with both parents, if they want to. You should probably not tell the kids just before a major holiday or a test at school or some athletic or extracurricular event. It’s obviously hard to find a good time.
3. Do it with the right people. That usually means that both parents should be present and should participate about equally. It is preferable to say “we” more than “I”. Make it a joint effort.
4. Do it with the right reasons. You can explain things in broad terms, such as “We aren’t getting along and can’t fix the situation.” Don’t blame each other and don’t be too specific.
5. Provide the right responses. Listen and respond to your children’s comments and questions. Provide age appropriate responses. You can give broad statements, rather than a lot of specifics. Do reassure the kids that both of you still love them and the split has nothing to do with them.
6. Provide the right amount of information. Most children don’t really want or need to know the nitty gritty details. Be sure the kids know that there is no hope of reconciliation and that you have both reached that decision after carefully considering all the circumstances. Don’t try to give the children too much information. Keep it brief.
7. Do it with the right mood. Timing is important. Don’t try to have the discussion when the children (and the parents) are tired, hungry, busy, upset or preoccupied. That could lead to bad reactions.
If you are about to get a divorce and you have kids, someone will have to talk with the kids about what’s going on. In Collaborative cases, parents usually can get expert help from a counselor to prepare for this important discussion and the parents will usually cooperate in this effort. You can consider the factors above when you and your spouse are planning what to do. Good luck!
If anyone has any additional ideas to share about how to tell your kids about divorce, please share them by commenting below.