5 Tips for Breaking Divorce News to Your Kids
Divorce is difficult. Divorce with kids can be even harder. When it comes time to tell your children the news, it’s important to remember that they may be feeling the pain of your divorce as much as – or even more than – you are.
This situation is harrowing but not unique. In fact, more than 630,500 divorces occur every year, with some of those divorces involving families. Rather than avoiding the conversation, approach the topic in a thoughtful way that (hopefully) softens the blow while giving your kids tools for coping with the divorce and reassuring them they’re still at the top of your list.
Here are five tips to help you talk to your kids about your divorce.
1. Present a united front with your co parent
Before you break the news to your children about your divorce, get on the same page with your co-parent about how you’re going to handle child-related issues after divorce. Whether you’re ending things amicably or headed for divorce court, you’re likely going to be sharing kid time with your co-parent. Thus, it’s important that you also share similar household rules and a consistent routine they can count on.
If your relationship ended contentiously, get yourself in the right headspace before broaching the topic of co-parenting with your ex. Lean on your support systems at home and work, have a plan for your financial future and career, and come prepared for your collaborative discussions so you don’t back down on what’s best for your kids. It may be worthwhile to join a divorce support group or speak with a divorce therapist or coach before you meet with your spouse to discuss things.
2. Reassure your children they are loved
It’s common for children to think divorce is somehow their fault. They often wonder if they could have done something differently to prevent it. Depending on the ages of your children, use appropriate language and terms to help them understand this isn’t true.
Keep things simple and factual without giving too many details. You could let them know, “Your mom and I have decided we don’t want to be married and live together anymore, but we still love you just as much as ever and it’s not your fault at all.” Even something as simple as, “Your dad and I have tried to get along but just aren’t able to,” can go a long way.
Most importantly, allow your kids to ask questions. By taking time to talk with your children about the divorce, no matter how much it hurts, you reinforce the fact that they are loved, that it’s not their fault, and that you and your co-parent both want what’s best for them.
3. Give yourself time, and seek support
If you’re struggling to find the right words to say to your kids, give yourself time to process everything. Lean on family members and friends to support you, and consider giving your child some time away from home so you can prepare yourself. For example, you might ask a close family member or friend to take your little ones for a weekend or longer – especially if you or your partner is moving out of the marital home.
It’s also a good idea to establish ties with people in your community, as you might need to rely on them in the near future. Try the following:
- Engaging in neighborhood activities
- Spending more time outside with your kids
- Moving to a friendlier neighborhood
As the saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Having your neighbors around to support and uplift you can make a big difference in how well you process the changes you’re about to experience during the different stages of divorce.
4. Don’t point fingers
One of the worst mistakes a parent can make when discussing divorce with kids is playing the “blame game.” Divorce hurts, even if you’re going through an uncontested or collaborative divorce in which the two of you get along and agree on all major after-divorce issues. It almost always works in your favor to reach a compromise out of court, so consider getting help from a mediator if you and your ex tend to play the blame game.
If you can’t paint your former spouse in a positive light, remain neutral when talking about them. Avoid things like:
- Relaying messages to your ex through your kids
- Relying on your children for emotional support
- Saying negative things about your ex
- Blaming your co-parent for the divorce
It’s important to let kids be kids. Remember, they’re dealing with a roller coaster of emotions right now, too. You need to serve as their support system and be a source of consistency in their lives, not the other way around.
5. Give them time to process
In addition to giving yourself time to process the stages of divorce, it’s essential to give your little ones time. Respect their thoughts, emotions, and questions. Keep things as normal and routine as possible, even though you know it’s impossible to keep every little thing exactly how it was.
After your initial conversation, give your children the time they need to work through their feelings and eventually respond. It’s likely that you’ll have to talk about the divorce more than once, and that’s okay. The more you discuss it with your kids, the easier it will be for them to understand and express themselves.
Breaking divorce news to kids is never easy. On top of the divorce paperwork, appointments and hearings, and grief over losing your spouse and the life you used to lead, it hurts to see any kind of confusion, sadness, or worry in your children’s eyes. But sweeping things under the rug isn’t an option. Be as open and honest as appropriate with your kids, and keep their mental and emotional well-being at the forefront of your mind as you move forward.