How to talk to children about divorce

How to Talk to Children About Divorce

A Helpful Guide for Breaking the News to Your Kids

Whether you’re the one going through it or know someone who is, divorce is never an easy subject to talk about—especially when children are involved. At Burrows Law Group, we know that as a parent, you want to keep your children from enduring any undue emotional pain and strife, but, in our experience with divorce cases, it’s best to assume a united front with your soon-to-be ex and put it all out in the open. Easier said than done, right? That’s why we’ve assembled the following guidelines outlining the best practices for how to talk to children about divorce.

Burrows’ Guide to How to Talk to Children About Divorce

  1. Plan when, where and how to break the news. The way in which you tell your children about your divorce matters just as much as the information you disclose. It’s been shown that people rarely forget the time and place they were told about their parents’ divorce, so you want to mitigate the emotional stress as much as possible. Choose a calm, quiet place to tell the kids, at a time when you don’t have plans or obligations (i.e., the weekend) so you can be readily on hand to further discuss the issue and answer any questions they may have. Strive to tell the children about your divorce several weeks or months prior to separating.
  1. Tell the kids about your divorce together. If it’s at all possible, set your differences aside and talk to your children about your upcoming divorce together, with a united front. This shows you and your soon-to-be-ex take responsibility of your marriage dissolution and helps reaffirm the fact that it’s not the children’s fault. Be sure that your children know they don’t have to and shouldn’t feel like they have to choose one parent’s side over the other. It’s also best practice to lead into the conversation with a phrase like, “After trying our best to make everything work out, we have decided that this is the best thing for everyone in our family.” Let the kids know it’s absolutely not their fault, and be sure to reiterate that fact regularly throughout the divorce process.
  1. Prepare for a range of emotional reactions. Children can react to news of their parents’ divorce in many ways, including: having emotional outbursts, crying, misbehaving, asking a lot of questions or asking no questions at all. Regardless of how your kid reacts to being told about your divorce, be sure to listen attentively and provide lots of reassurance and love.
  1. Steer clear from trying to pry reactions out of your children about the divorce. If your child stays quiet about the family’s situation for a matter of days or even weeks, keep talking to them to keep lines of communication open without harping on the divorce issue. It’s perfectly fine and healthy to check in every few days with questions like: 
    1. “How are you doing today?”
    2. “How are you dealing with the changes in our family?”
    3. “Is there anything I can do for you?”
    4. “Is there anything you want to ask me?”
  1. Maintain parental roles and established routines. It’s important to try to keep as many aspects of life as normal as possible before, during and after a divorce. That means doing what you normally do as Mom or Dad and maintaining your routines—everything from getting ready for school and eating breakfast to eating dinner and brushing teeth at the same time every day. This consistency, along with sticking to your family’s set rules and disciplinary processes, will aid with children’s adjustment to the divorce.
  1. Emphasize the essentials. Throughout the duration of your divorce, it’s important to emphasize several matters to help your children with the adjustment. So be sure to repeat these phrases on a regular basis:
    1. “We both love you very much.”
    2. “This is not your fault.”
    3. “Even though we may not all be together all the time, we are still a family.”
    4. “You do not have to choose sides. We both love you very much, and we both deserve your respect.”
    5. “It’s okay to be [mad, sad, confused, etc.]. I’m always here to talk about this whenever you need to.”
    6. “You are safe.”
    7. “We are both always going to be there for you.”
    8. “You are going to be okay. We are all going to be okay because we are all going to help each other get through this difficult time.”
  1. Have an idea about what’s next. It’s okay to not have everything figured out when going through a divorce, but it’s important to actively work toward establishing a plan of action—and keep your kids informed about that plan. This will help with the adjustment and let them know what to expect. Matters to discuss with the children include topics like: which parent is staying in the house, where the parent who’s leaving will live, how often the kids can expect to see each parent, when/if the kids can expect to everyone to be together (e.g., Christmas, birthday parties, sports events, school functions, etc.).

Other Divorce Guidelines to Consider

  • Stick to the truth when talking to your kids about divorce, as it helps to minimize their confusion about the situation. Try your best to answer any questions they may have honestly—even if it is uncomfortable or painful to talk about. If it does get too difficult, it’s okay to pause the conversation and pick up where you left off within the next couple of days.
  • Don’t tell one kid about the divorce and not tell the other(s). In other words, don’t tell the oldest child about your impending divorce and refrain from telling the younger child(ren). If you do, the child you tell will hear, “You must keep this a secret,” which imparts a huge, unnecessary burden on them, while the child you don’t tell will hear, “You are not able to handle the truth about our family,” when they eventually find out.
  • Tell your kids’ teachers, babysitters and/or daycare providers about your divorce a day or so before your children. This will allow them to be prepared for any instances of acting out or misbehavior. Since your divorce is such a sensitive subject, be sure to stress the importance of keeping the information you disclose discreet. Also, tell them to not bring anything related to your divorce up with your kid(s) and talk to them about it only if the child brings it up first.
  • Tailor your message about your divorce to your kids’ developmental and maturity levels. Be sure to use language and examples that your kids can easily comprehend to avoid confusion and misinterpretation.

Please note that the guidelines about how to talk to children about divorce in this article are intended solely for informational purposes in ideal situations. Every divorce is different, and every family’s needs in a divorce case can differ greatly. That’s why it is of the utmost importance to consider and/or apply our guidelines through the lens of your particular situation. If you have questions, concerns or need professionally tailored divorce counsel or legal representation, please give Burrows Law Group a call at 972-703-4004. You may also contact us here or use our live chat option.

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