Of all the conversations parents dread with their children, telling kids you’re getting a divorce has got to rank in the top five. Even if the split is the best outcome for everyone, the conversation is delicate. And it’s one more and more parents are having to make. But just because it’s a common occurrence doesn’t make the conversation any easier. How can you reassure your children that they’ll still be loved and supported even if mommy and daddy are no longer a couple? What’s the best way to tell your kids you’re getting a divorce?
How To Tell Your Kids You’re Getting A Divorce
Don’t beat yourself up. That’s the first step, Dr. Scyatta A. Wallace, a Psychologist/Teen Expert and CEO of Janisaw Company, tells Romper. Remember, you’re not the only one going through this. “One out of every two marriages today ends in divorce and many divorcing families include children,” reports The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
“Communicating divorce to your child is very challenging even if the child/children are adults. Therefore, an important place to start is being kind to yourself and recognizing that you are doing the best that you can in the approach you decide to take,” says Dr. Wallace.
Don’t think of the process of how to tell your kids you’re getting a divorce as a one and done conversation either. “It will need to be a series of conversations over time in order to give you, your ex and child/children time to process and have their concerns/fears/questions answered,” says Dr. Wallace. “Also think about your child's ability to process the information you are presenting (their age, emotional maturity, other life challenges). Consider how you can make adjustments in your delivery based on knowing your child/children.”
The Best Time And Place To Tell Your Kids You’re Getting A Divorce
“Timing is important,” says Dr. Wallace when it comes to how to tell your kids you’re getting a divorce. “If possible, get support around the time you are having the first conversation. Can you take time off work or take some responsibilities off your plate so you can have more time to focus on this delicate time with your family? Also, try to have the first conversation when there are not a lot of other things happening with the rest family like exams at school, work deadlines, birthdays or holidays.” Don’t rush the subject to try to get it out of the way. This is a process that requires patience.
Also consider where you’re going to speak to your children about your divorce. “It would be best to have the conversation in a physical space that feels familiar and safe for the child/children,” adds Dr. Wallace. “Often this is the home but at minimum it should be a private place where everyone can be comfortable sharing their feelings.”
And don’t forget, “the legal divorce procedure is not what the child is focused on,” says Dr. Wallace. “It’s the change in their lived experience. Thus it's important that if any changes to living arrangements are happening that a conversation happen before the move. This gives you time to help them emotionally prepare for the move. However once the divorce is final another conversation would be important to help them and you come to closure.”
Should Both Parents Be Present To Tell Kids They’re Getting A Divorce?
It might feel easier to just break the news to your children yourself, but Dr. Wallace cautions against that knee jerk reaction.
“If there are no safety issues at play, it is best to have both parents in the discussions, especially the first one,” she says. “This will help the child/children recognize that their parents are still prioritizing them and care for them as much as they have always cared for them.”
Ways Parents Can Reassure Children When They Tell Them They’re Getting A Divorce
Write this down: “The most important thing to communicate is that the divorce is not the child/children's fault. Repeat many times that the divorce has nothing to do with how much you both love them,” says Dr. Wallace.
Things Parents Should Avoid When Telling Their Kids They’re Getting A Divorce
During this delicate time, it might be easy for parents to get upset at one another or argue. That’s counter productive says Dr. Wallace. “Do not place any blame or bad talk each other during the conversation and during the divorce process. Do not promise things about the parent relationship or how the family will function if you are not sure those promises will happen. For example, if you will no longer be living in the home, do not say you will pick them up from school every day if you are not sure that can still happen,” she says.
What you can do to help children feel more protected and safe is to show as much love as possible during this difficult time. “Do reiterate your love for them and commitment to the family,” Dr. Wallace says.
Ways Parents Can Make The Transition Easier After Telling Kids They’re Getting A Divorce
“As much as possible, try to keep things consistent for the child/children,” say Dr. Wallace. Following the conversation, maintaining their normal lives will be key to helping them feel reassured.
“For example, live in the same home for at least a transition period and keep their schedules/activities similar,” says Dr. Wallace. “Have follow up conversations to see how they are doing and answer their questions/concerns.”
And finally, she says, “Start to create a new vision for the family in its new form. For example, are there traditions/activities you can create as a divorced family that will bring everyone together in a positive way.”
Bottom line, put your children’s needs and feelings first so that they know that while this change might be painful, your love for them hasn’t wavered and that’s one thing you and your partner will always share even if you’re living apart.
Dr. Scyatta A. Wallace, a Psychologist/Teen Expert and CEO of Janisaw Company, janisaw.com