Divorce is a stressful experience for everyone involved, and it can be especially traumatic for children. If you and your spouse are considering a separation or divorce, keep it to yourselves until you know for sure. Your kids are on a need-to-know basis and they do not need to know until your decision is final. Children do not flourish in uncertain circumstances. They flourish in knowing exactly what their future holds, so hold tight. Obviously, there is never a “good” time to break the divorce news, but make sure that when you do, you have plenty of time afterward to stay near to your children. You will need to offer plenty of hugs and reassurances and not rush off to a sports practice or birthday party.
Even if you are disagreeing about everything, try to agree on what to tell your children. Ideally, parents should break the news as a team. Telling your children together avoids confusion—they will hear only one version of the story, which demonstrates that it was a mutual decision. Write down everything you plan to say. It should not feel like you are giving a speech to your kids but it is important to have all the facts to ensure you discuss all relevant points in a way that is positive, gentle, and organized.
Choose an Appropriate Place and Time
Don’t tell them around holidays or birthdays. Don’t tell them in a public place, or just before bedtime. If one of your kids lashes out against you or your husband, be prepared to stick up for each other. If one of your daughters says, “Oh dad, you’ve always been so mean,” be ready to disagree. Say, “Your dad always tries to be a good parent and he loves you.” You should select a place that is private and comfortable, such as your kitchen table or a living room in your home. Having a peaceful environment and plenty of time will help the conversation stay controlled and relaxed.
Every divorce is painful for all members of the family. But that does not mean that life after divorce is always tough—in fact, as a parent, you play a big part in easing the fears and anxieties of your child. Most parenting experts conclude that what you tell a child about the reasons for your divorce depends a lot on the age and maturity of the child, and whether or not some of the reasons are obvious. Children are uniquely adept at detecting falsehood, and will only be hurt if you try to hide the reality of your divorce. You do not need to go into details but you should be open to questions and answer them as honestly as possible.
Reassure Your Kids That They Are Not Responsible
Many times, children will blame themselves for their parents divorce. Children have a limited ability to understand what is happening during divorce, what they are feeling, and why. Younger children see things from their own perspective and tend to see themselves as the cause of events. They often blame themselves for their parents’ divorce. Reassure them of your love, as well as to remind them that they are not to blame is important. It is very important to help them process the divorce in a healthy way.
Encourage Kids to Talk About It
If the parents are not willing to talk with the children about their feelings about the divorce, they may go to other parties like friends, neighbors, or grandparents, who often only have part of the story. If you avoid the discussion, change the subject, or just refuse to answer questions, you will drive them to others for the answers.
Avoid Blaming the Other Parent
If you and your spouse are getting an amicable divorce you may both be able to sit down with your kids to discuss the divorce without hostility or animosity. However, if you and your spouse are at odds. it may be tempting to tell your kids what an awful person their mother or father is and how much you hate him or her. Telling your child that their mom kept getting drunk or had an affair with the neighbor will generally not be helpful. Even if the other parent was in your mind primarily to blame for the breakup, keep the attitude positive. No matter what, it is important to talk as positively as you can about the other parent, and to avoid blaming him or her for the divorce.
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