parent’s worst nightmare: Talking to your kids about divorce.
How do you do it?
Talking to your children about divorce can be a difficult and emotionally draining conversation especially as you anticipate having this necessary conversation. However, it is important to approach it in a sensitive and age-appropriate way. Here are some general tips on how to talk to your children about divorce:
Schedule a family meeting: It’s best that both parents jointly schedule a family meeting to talk to the children together. Having a meeting on a Friday evening or Saturday morning is best so the children can emotionally process this difficult situation and understand what the action plan is for the family prior to returning to school on Monday morning. Please note that this meeting should be one meeting of many, and this step should be repeated several times throughout the divorce process.
Be honest: Children most often sense when something is wrong, so it’s important to be honest about what is happening. Use simple language that your child can understand and avoid using blaming language.
Remain calm at all costs: Don’t be surprised if they already knew it was coming and remember that they are looking to you to determine how they should feel about the situation, so the more confident (and sensitive) you appear to be about it, the more confident they will be that everything will be okay, and that it is the right decision for the family despite the significant impact to all parties.
Reassure them: Let your children know that they are loved and that the divorce is not their fault. They may blame themselves, remembering a fight that you both had about them, so again, make it clear, that your decision to divorce has nothing to do with them or any arguing that has taken place about them. Tell them that you and your spouse no longer are able to make each other happy. Reassure them that both parents will still be a part of their lives and that you both will work to maintain their lives as much as possible. Reassure them over and over again over the course of time and live by what you say as best you can. Often this step is extremely difficult especially when one parent wants the divorce and the other does not.
Listen to them: Allow your children to express their feelings and concerns about the divorce. Validate their emotions and let them know that it’s okay to feel sad, angry, or confused. Again, let them know that it is okay however they are feeling. This is not a one time conversation. You need to check in with your children on a routine basis to process their feelings during and post the entire divorce process.
Avoid sharing too much information: While it’s important to be honest with your children, it’s also important to avoid sharing too much adult information that may be inappropriate or overwhelming for them. If one of you had an affair, it’s not appropriate to share that information with your children in the event they still remain under your care. This is something you can share when your children are in their 20s and peace has been restored in the family.
Maintain routines: Try to maintain your children’s routines as much as possible, such as their school and extracurricular activities. Those old routines help provide a sense of stability and normalcy during this difficult time. Ensure they continue to spend time with their friends, and if you both can manage yourselves like adults should, both of you should continue to attend their important activities.
Have check-ins often: As I said in the first step and others that followed, continue to process with, talk to, and listen to your children throughout the entire divorce process.
Seek professional help if needed: If you are struggling with how to talk to your children about divorce or if your children are having a difficult time coping, consider seeking the help of a mental health professional like a psychologist, licensed clinical social worker, or mental health counselor who specializes in working with children and families experiencing divorce. Please make sure you do your due diligence when selecting an expert to work with your family. Picking someone seasoned is crucial.
Remember, every child is different and may react to the news of divorce in their own way. By approaching the conversation with sensitivity, openness, and nondefensiveness, you can help your child navigate this difficult time and adjust to the changes ahead.
We at D’Arienzo Psychology can assist you and your family along your separation or divorce journey. Contact us at 904-379-8094 or [email protected] for more information. We offer the following family divorce services: