Once you and your spouse have made the tough decision to divorce, it can be even more terrifying (and heartbreaking) to figure out how best to tell your children that their parents will no longer be married.
There’s no one right or wrong way to break the news, and different children will respond in different ways, but there are some steps you can take to really help your children cope with what’s about to happen.
In her blog, Five Tips on How To Tell The Children You Are Getting Divorced, divorce transition and relationship coach Betsy Ross urges parents to remember that explaining your divorce to the children is a process, one “that evolves over time and includes lots of room for the expression of feelings (theirs) for reassurances that they are loved and will continue to be parented and loved (by you both), and for answering questions.”
As part of that process, she suggests giving the kids a few pieces of what will be happening at a time. Don’t dump everything on them at once. “It wouldn’t be helpful to tell your children you are getting divorced, the house is for sale, and we’re moving to Kentucky all in one sitting,” she writes.
Once you tell them you’re divorcing, watch and respond to their reactions. “Ask them what you just said and see if they are truly comprehending what you are talking about or if they just stare at you with a vacant expression. Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself or express the same message using different words,” Ross advises.
A Psychology Today article: Mom and Dad Have Something to Tell You: Six Tips for Talking to Kids About Divorce by Kevin D. Arnold highlights a study of in-depth interviews of children of divorce. That study suggests you should deliver the news to all of your children at the same time. “Parents sometimes tell the oldest child first, and shelter the youngest child. The strategy seems unwise, since older children then bear the burden of keeping secrets,” he writes.
Understandably, children could be scared or confused about what a divorce means for them. It’s wise to be truthful with kids and address their concerns as best you can. Don’t just respond “It’ll be OK,” Arnold writes. “(C)hildren need parents to address their confusion and pain. They need to know the details and to receive answers to questions. Parents do best when they reduce the confusion [the children] feel by being truthful.”
Finally, the study found that children may benefit when parents deliver the news together. Arnold writes, “When parents bring all the family together, the children benefit from a united message delivered by both parents-children feel less disturbed when parents exhibit this kind of maturity. The research tells us that children prefer a message that avoids parents blaming each other-instead hoping both parents will take ownership of the marriage ending. Doing so can protect children from feeling a) that they caused the divorce or b) that they must align with one parent and reject the other.”