How do you tell the children you are separating or divorcing? How will they react? How do you help them adjust?
Children are always on the receiving end of divorce. Rarely is it what they would choose. Ideally, parents will work together for the good of their children even in divorce. But, if you’re dealing with an ex that declines a cooperative approach, you can still make choices that ease the transition for your children.
To guide you in this process I’ve put together a handy checklist of things for you to consider. I hope it helps you with this difficult task.
Tips for Telling Your Children You Will Divorce
When to Tell the Children:
- Only tell them once you are sure you will be divorcing. Don’t upset their world unless you’re sure.
- Don’t tell the children before you tell your mate that it is over.
- Preferably wait until you’ve signed a settlement on specific custody arrangement so that you can tell the children exactly how their daily life will change.
- Choose a good time. For example, don’t tell them right before a test at school or right before or on a special occasion such as their birthdays.
How to Tell the Children:
- If possible, both parents should agree on the approach to use with the children.
- If possible, both parents need to be involved in telling the children their parents will divorce.
- Tell all of the children at the same time using language even the youngest can comprehend.
- Choose wording that is age appropriate for your children.
- Don’t use an angry or frustrated tone of voice. Be calm.
- Do not blame the children’s other parent even if you think it justified. Badmouthing their other parent is likely to put undue stress on your children and eventually backfire on you.
- Focus on the well-being of your children. Do not let talking with your kids about divorce turn into a fight with your spouse.
- Stay in control of yourself in front of the children. If you fall apart it will add to their confusion and stress.
What to Say and Not Say to the Children:
- Tell your children that you love them.
- Tell them that your marriage is going to end due to adult problems.
- Make sure the children know that divorce is in no way their fault.
- Never ever blame your children for divorce.
- If you need to offer an explanation beyond “adult problems” give an honest general explanation that can be understood by even the youngest of your children. Do not give details about adult problems.
- Tell them what to expect as far as how the divorce will affect them. For example, tell them where they will live and how each parent will be involved in their lives.
- Be sure you don’t make promises you can’t keep.
- Make sure the children each know they are loved.
- If possible, tell children where the departing parent will be and how often they will see him or her. Let them know such things as whether both parents will continue to attend the children’s activities/events.
Supporting the Adjustment of Your Children:
- Build a support network of key people for your children such as grandparents, teachers, guidance counselor, other relatives and close friends who are aware of your pending divorce.
- Help family members understand the importance of not bad-mouthing the children’s other parent. Remind them that it is for the good of the children that they not be dragged into adult issues.
- Allow the children time to adjust to what you’ve told them.
- Give children a chance to ask questions. Give them age appropriate answers. If you don’t know answers yet, tell them so.
- Help them know how to tell their friends that you will be divorcing.
- Model faith to let your children know God will help you all to get through the transition.
“God-loyal people, living honest lives, make it much easier for their children.” Proverbs 20:7 THE MESSAGE
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Renee Smith Ettline is a writer and founder of After Divorce Ministries, LLC. She is author of the award-winning book, Peace after Divorce which has been recognized as an exemplary Christian self-help book by the Illumination Book Awards. Her articles also appear in publications such as Christian Women’s Voice magazine. Her blog posts every Friday here on Afterdivorceministries.com.