How To Tell Children About Divorce
For parents, the task of telling children about your intentions is painful and difficult.
Whilst as adults you have already worked your way through to the decision to separate or to divorce your children are only just starting on a journey that you may already have more or less completed. It will come to them as a great shock even if they have already suspected that it may happen.
There are no hard and fast rules. Every child is different and you will need to judge the best way of telling your child based on what you think their frame of mind is.
The most important thing to remember is their need for security (you are both still their parents and always will be), and they should have the opportunity to express themselves and their feelings in whatever way they feel able. This may vary greatly from extreme anger to complete silence. If you have more than one child you will need to weigh up whether you tell them individually, or all together, or a combination of this.
Below follows some guidance on how to tell the children about divorce and separation:
Tell The Children Together
If you are to do this without getting into further conflict it is a good idea to tell the children together. If you feel you can then try to think through together the sort of questions your children will be likely to ask and how will you answer them. Decide which questions you may not be able to answer and how you will deal with those - questions such as "where will we live?" for examnple. Will you be able to give them the same "story"? It is important that you do avoiding blame.
Tell The Children In Your Home Environment
Being at home will feel safer for children - if they are upset they can show their emotions and have access to you both. Allow plenty of time so that you are going to be able to cope with the possible immediate reactions and remember to be readily available at all times for delayed reactions.
Be honest with your children and don’t retract if they cry. It is likely to cause more pain later on because you set up false expectations that cannot be realised and it only prolongs the hurt. It is important to be reassuring without making unrealistic promises - this is a very difficult task for parents, we never want to feel that we have deliberately upset our children. Think about what your child or children are able to understand at this stage too. They are not adults and their perceptions and understanding are at a different stage from your own. Your children do not need to hear from either of you the faults of the other - remember, you are the people they love and are closest to in their whole world - that won't change for them even if it has for you.
Allow Children To Express Their Emotions
There could be tears, anger, pleading, promises of good behaviour, fear, bravado and denial. Do not argue or negotiate but tell the child you understand and you know that it does hurt but you will try to help them so that it hurts less. Be clear that what has happened has not been because of them or anything that they have done, but a decision made between their two parents.
Make Them Aware of Future Arrangements
If future arrangements have been determined let them know what they are. Probable timing of events can be helpful for older children, but do not overwhelm them with too much information at first, only what you judge they can take in initially. Think about the age of each child and your own close knowledge of their level of understanding and be guided by that. Tell them if you wish that you are coming to see people to work out what is best for all of you and you will tell them as soon as you know anything if this is appropriate. Be specific but don't over explain. Try not to involve them in the solution or decision making unless they are old enough - and even then be aware that many children still prefer for their parents to be the people who decide what is best for them.
Involve Children in the Move
If one of you is going to move out it often helps to involve the children in the move. Show them where you are going to be moving to, where their future bedroom will be when they visit you, show them the kitchen and your future bedroom. Children worry about the wellbeing of the non-resident parent, will s/he have enough to eat, where will s/he sleep, will they be alright? By involving them they can feel reassured and also feel they are actively participating - the fantasies are minimised. Sometimes this is not possible because the parent is moving away. If this is the case, and you know what the visiting arrangements will be, tell them jointly so that they feel reassured that they will be seeing you regularly.
Do not be surprised if they talk to their friends about it. This sometimes proves helpful as friends may well have parents who are apart and they are sometimes reassuring or quite matter of fact about it all. Equally, watch out if your child tells no-one and be prepared to continue reassuring them that what is happening in their family often happens in other families too. Ask if they can think of anyone they know in a similar situation and tell them you understand that sometimes it is difficult to talk about. Do not be surprised if they tell you each quite different things about the same situation - their love and loyalties to you both will leave them wanting to make clear how much they love each of you. Sometimes they will need to show how cross they are or how distressed. If you can manage to keep your adult communication going during this time it will assist the children to understand that you remain, as their parents, together in your concern for them.
MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL - reassure children that you will both go on being their parents. You will always be their mother and father and the fact that you and your spouse are unable to get on well together anymore does not in any way alter your feelings for them. They are your children forever and your love for them will always remain the same.
Click here to download our free fact sheet: How To Tell The Children.
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