On average, 2.9 out of every 1000 Americans divorce yearly. While it can be difficult for parents, children are the ones who generally suffer the most. They often don’t quite understand the situation and can face challenges processing emotions.
It’s also a moment that they’ll likely never forget. The following advice and recommendations on how to tell kids about divorce should make this difficult moment smoother and less traumatizing.
The Right Timing
There’s no perfect time to announce a separation. Yet, the right planning could avoid unnecessary stress.
Some parents decide to tell their offspring about the divorce only a few weeks before one of them moves out. The short timing removes some of the stress from kids. Parents may also have more answers to their children’s questions, such as where they’ll live.
In all cases, it’s best to avoid having your kids find out about the divorce on their own. If the separation process takes a while—and lawyers are involved—it may be best to inform them ahead of time.
On the other hand, don’t tell your kids that “you’re planning to divorce.” This could mean that you may change your mind, which can be confusing for kids. There should be no gray area.
Always choose a familiar environment to announce your decision. Ideally, choose your home. If kids need some time alone in their bedroom to cry or let their emotions out, they’ll have a familiar place to do this.
Call for a Family Meeting
Some parents decide to tell the eldest child first, keeping it a secret for younger siblings who may not be able to handle it as well. This generally leads to conflict as sisters or brothers will eventually find out. Plus, it puts additional pressure on the older one who needs to be secretive and hide their emotions.
We recommend informing all of your kids together. Call for a family meeting, ideally in the morning, to avoid adding the fatigue of the day to this moment. Make sure you have plenty of time and don’t have any activities scheduled for the rest of the day.
If you’re concerned about your eldest’s reaction, some parents prefer to inform him or her separately. This is fine as long as siblings are informed soon after. Either way, both parents should be present to talk in a unified front.
Deciding to divorce can be a heavy burden and stress for parents alone. Our emotions, combined with the uncertainty of our children’s reactions, can also get in the way. We want to make sure that our message comes across the right way.
Before calling for a family meeting, prepare what you’ll say. Plus, avoid having one of the parents doing all the talking.
Keep the message simple and clear; use short sentences and words that are easy to understand. When children have witnessed arguments and fighting, it may not entirely come as a surprise. Let them know that you’re doing what’s best for the family.
Every child is different and may react according to their personality. Some of them might burst with anger, while others may remain silent. Consider all aspects and be prepared to respond appropriately to all types of emotions and reactions.
The message should aim to inform but also reassure your children. Make sure your kids understand that it’s a decision taken between adults. They aren’t the cause of the split.
Let them know that you love them, and you’ll always be their mother and father; this will never change. Inform them that they’ll still spend time with each of you, but at separate times.
Unfortunately, your kids may have friends whose parents are divorced. They may be a good example to give if the separation is smooth and the children are settled.
You could present it as “You see how your friend Brad spends some time with his mum, and some with his dad? This will also be our case.”
Regardless of the cause of the divorce, don’t bring up blame and resentment. Both parents need to be mature and take responsibility for the end of the marriage.
At this moment, it isn’t about you. It’s all about the kids, making sure they feel safe and reassured.
Inform of Upcoming Changes
At this time, children may be wondering if certain activities or routines will be changed. While most of them may remain unchanged—such as a bedtime story or a birthday party—be honest if some changes should be expected. False expectations could cause great pain down the road.
If you don’t have all the answers, let them know. Tell them that you’re working out the details, it may take some time, but you’ll keep them informed of anything new.
Only provide the necessary information. Kids might already be affected by various feelings, and giving too many details might just be too overwhelming.
Allow Time for Emotion and Questions
After explaining to your kids, make some time for questions. Confronting your children might be the most challenging part, but it’s crucial for them. Avoid walking away or sending them to their room, even if they remain quiet.
Encourage your kids to share their emotions, concerns, or doubts. Don’t end the family meeting until all questions have been addressed.
Some children may leave and withdraw to their rooms, slamming doors. Give them some time alone to process the information. You may visit them later to give a reassuring hug.
Informing your kids about the divorce is only one step. The days, weeks, and months that follow are just as important.
Get them Involved
If one parent moves out, get your child involved. Ask them to help with packing and show your kid your new home. Seeing the bedroom they’ll sleep in when visiting should reassure them and answer questions they may not have even asked.
Give Extra Attention
Make sure to spend quality time with your kids. Give extra kisses and hugs. Play games rather than letting them watch TV or play video games to avoid the subject.
Even after “the meeting,” your kids may have questions. You might also have to answer the same ones over and over again as they’ll need reassurance. Make sure they’re aware you’re available and open to address any doubt.
Observe Your Kids’ Behavior
Look for withdrawal or misbehavior. Encourage your child to speak up and open the dialogue.
Sometimes children are afraid to ask questions to avoid hurting their parents’ feelings. It may be a good idea to see a family therapist. This should give them a safe and neutral place to share their concerns.
Keep a Routine
Separation can bring many changes that children will have to get accustomed to. Maintaining as much routine as possible should reassure your child. Trying to keep the same activities, meal times, or other daily rituals can be helpful.
Every child is unique and may show individual reactions to the announcement of separation. Planning when and how to announce it should leave your kids reassured that you’ll remain their parents, no matter what.
Be ready to answer any questions, even if you need to give the same responses. Show more love, and pay attention to any changes in behavior. Some kids aren’t very good at talking but will express their feelings by altering their actions.