STOP! If you are considering a divorce, do everything within your power to find another way. Divorce hurts. It will hurt your children whether or not they are willing to tell you. Divorce fundamentally changes the world they have come to know.
That said, we recognize that some people will still elect to get a divorce, or may find themselves in a position where they have no choice. In those situations, we hope that you will make every effort to lessen the impact divorce will have on your kids. Those efforts should start from the very beginning, and in this case the beginning is when you choose to tell your kids about the divorce.
The following lists provide guidance on the steps you can take to tell your children about your divorce in the best possible way. Though these steps will not eliminate all pain and hurt your children might feel, we hope that they will help to mitigate the impacts of divorce. Not all of these steps will be easy for you, but we encourage you to make every effort to take as many of these steps as you possible can. Whatever you do, be honest with your kids, do not tell your children the things listed below if you do not actually intend to do it.
- Don’t tell your children until you are absolutely sure you are getting a divorce.
- Tell the kids together with your spouse.
- Determine with your spouse ahead of time what you will say to your children and who will say it.
- Tell all of your children together at the same time.
- Pick an appropriate time for the conversation. Do not pick a time where someone need to head off to a soccer game or business meeting.
- Leave plenty of time for the conversation. Allotting an entire day and evening for this conversation would be best.
- Pick a private place to tell your children the news. Do not have the conversation with family friends or relatives present.
- Pick a place that is familiar and comfortable for your children. Do not have the conversation in a public place.
- Anticipate questions your children might ask ahead of time and be prepared to answer them.
What to Tell Them
- Explain exactly what is happening (Are you getting a divorce or separating?)
- Explain what a divorce is. Do not assume that your children already know.
- In an honest, and age appropriate way, explain why you are getting a divorce.
- Reassure your children that they are safe and will be taken care of.
- Let your children know that divorce is a last resort and you have done what you can to avoid it.
- Be clear that the divorce has nothing to do with them and is not in any way their fault.
- Reassure them that you are not divorcing them and it is not possible for parents to divorce children.
- Remind them that you are still their parents and always will be.
- Provide specific details about any changes your children can expect in their lives.
- Provide details on where the parent who is leaving will be living.
- Give details about when and how your children will spend time with the parent who is leaving.
- If there are issues yet to be resolved, let your children know what they issues are.
- Let your children know you love them no matter what.
- Be honest in everything you tell your children.
- Do not make promises you can’t keep.
How to Tell Them
- Stay calm.
- Try not to be emotional.
- Don’t argue with your spouse.
- Do not cast blame.
- Avoid anger.
- Maintain eye contact with your children.
- Acknowledge strife if it has existed in your house.
- Be sensitive to how your children react to the news. Every child may react completely differently.
- Allow for your children to express their emotions.
- Do not get defensive based on your child’s reaction.
- Do not do anything which would require or encourage a child to take sides.
- Do not require your child to make any major decisions (like where to live or what parent to live with) at this meeting.
- Give plenty of hugs and kisses.
- Do not let the meeting linger on. At the appropriate time, and after an appropriate amount of discussion, let your children know that you be there for them and will be available to answer any questions and end the meeting.
After the Meeting
- Be available to answer any questions.
- Stay physically close to your children if at all possible (stay in the same home that night).
- Arrange for a trusted, and impartial, adult for the child to talk to and let them know that person is available for them.
- Schedule another family meeting a week or two later to address any additional questions or concerns your children might have.