What Do We Tell The Kids?

Published January 31, 2019

Getting a divorce is complicated. You may have agonized over the decision to divorce.  Additionally, talking to your soon-to-be former spouse may be heated, emotionally draining or both.  When you have children, it can become more complicated because you are responsible not only for your emotions, but you must also help your children process theirs.

Parents feel uncertain talking to kids

Telling your children about the impending divorce is not something most parents feel comfortable or confident with.  Many parents do not know what to say or how much to share with their children.  Similarly, parents tend to feel guilty about divorce and the uncertainty and change it creates for their kids’ lives.

Basic truth not all details

Regardless of how you feel about telling your children you are getting a divorce, you need to provide them with age-appropriate information about what is transpiring at home.  Details surrounding the demise of your marriage or your spouse’s short-comings are not appropriate for any age child. Instead, tell your kids the basic truth that a separation or divorce is occurring and what changes will be happening in their daily lives. 

Assure them

Children of any age need reassurance.  Emphasize your love for and value of them no matter what.  Kids benefit from clear expectations.  How will the separation or divorce impact them?  Will they have to move?  Will their school change?  When will they see and spend time with their parents? 

Talk to the kids together

Talking to your kids about the divorce for the first time should involve both parents. Before this happens though, the parents should talk to each other and agree upon what information is shared with the kids. Demonstrating unity and having a common message is helpful to kids. If parents cannot deliver the news together, additional effort by each parent to give the children comfort and assurance is necessary.

Suggestions

Here are some suggestions for talking with your kids:

  1. Be honest and factual.  Do not send mixed messages to your kids by sugar-coating or misrepresenting what is happening.  Do not tell your kids that one of you is going on a long trip when the reality is that a parent is moving out of the home. Instead, be factual with your kids about changes and avoid over-sharing details.
  2. Be calm and caring when talking to your kids. Divorce causes distress and upset for kids.  Because of this, watch your tone and words when you talk to them about the divorce. Keep anger and bitterness in check.
  3. Prepare for any kind of reaction from your kids when telling them about the divorce.  Emotions and reactions will vary and can be incredibly intense.  Conversely, some children may also be totally quiet.  Whatever the reaction is, you can help your kids by being present, calm and open to whatever they are experiencing or sharing. 
  4. Do not let any negative feelings you have about your spouse or the divorce impact your kids.  They are perceptive human beings. Try to remain optimistic and positive in your relationship and communications with them as this helps them feel stable and secure.
  5. Seek professional help if your kids are struggling with the divorce or you are having a difficult time talking with them. Types of professional help that can be very beneficial for individuals and families impacted by divorce include therapy, support groups or parent coaching.  Do not be afraid to try therapy or tap into resources that could really help.s
  6. Allow your kids to be kids. Shield them from grown-up conversations and do not place your children at the center of your conflict with their other parent at any time.  Kids should not have to choose who will come to their piano recital or worry where they will spend a holiday.
  7. Be grateful for time with your kids. You may feel sad about not seeing your children on Easter or a specific holiday. Sadness is understandable. However, parents not fighting over who “gets” the holiday is in kids’ best interests. Celebrate holidays and special occasions on different days or times when your kids are with the other parent. One of the most important things you can do for your kids is reinforce love for them and gratitude for any time spent together. Doing so has a reciprocal impact.  They will know that they can rely upon your love and support.