How to Tell Your Kids about Divorce
Three Things to Consider Ahead of Time
You are about to break it to your child that you and their mother are getting divorced. This is one of the most important conversations you will ever have with your child. Do not take it lightly.
You have made a decision that will undoubtedly turn their little lives upside down. Anticipate that it may have to occur over multiple conversations over multiple days, weeks, or months. Expect emotions to be high.
Your child’s reaction will depend on several things. Age, maturity, and level of awareness will be the biggest contributors. Children (even very young toddlers) are surprisingly cognizant of their surroundings. They likely already know that the relationship between mom and dad has either changed or is not a loving one, even if they show no signs of it. They pick up on subtle signals such as tone of voice and body language. I swear my nine-month-old infant knows and reacts when my husband and I argue.
But children are also surprisingly resilient. They adjust quicker than adults. They will get through this, and it will be ok. There is no right or wrong way to have the conversation, but knowing how to tell your kids about divorce is more about preparation than anything else. That is all up to you and your spouse.
How to Tell Your Kids about Divorce: Three Things to Consider Before You Do
1. Time it Right
There is not ever going to be a good time to tell your kids about your divorce so do not sit around waiting for one. Procrastination will not help you. However, there are some pretty bad times to spill the news. Consider the following:
- Be certain. Do not tell your children about a divorce until you are completely certain it is going to happen.
Why put her through that if you aren’t sure or if you are still trying to work things out? That is a lot of emotional turmoil for potentially no reason.
- Be the ones to tell your child. Tell him together. Do not wait until he hears it from someone else or figures it out on his own.
I’m lucky in that my folks haven’t divorced although they probably should have (subject for a future post), but I know several people whose parents did.
One of those people was nine years old. He found out while his family was on vacation by hearing his parents’ conversation through a wall while he was trying to fall asleep.
Not the best way (or place) to find out.
- Be there for the aftermath. Do not tell them right before they head off to school, right before you go to work, or right before bed.
Children will need time to process the news. Depending on the individual child, he may be upset, frightened, anxious, or angry.
Parents need to be there to support him, answer his questions, and comfort him.
2. Have Answers Prepared
Children ask questions to help them understand. This will be no exception.
They may have questions right away, or they may have questions after they have adequate time to process. There is no way to predict what they will ask, but you should be prepared.
You need to have a perfect answer. It probably does not exist. What you need is honesty. Give simple answers.
Refrain from lying or sugarcoating. Don’t go into detail, but stick with a short set of answers.
Your little humans are wicked smart. And they already know more than you think they do. So don’t insult them by not telling them the truth.
Depending on the age, you might expect some form of these questions.
- What is divorce? Chances are (if your child is school age) she knows another child whose parents went through divorce. She probably has some sort of idea what it entails, but she may not understand the reality or certainty of it.
Explain that mom and dad will not live together anymore, but you are both still her parents and love her very much.
- Why are you getting a divorce? Your child does not need a detailed answer here.
He does not need to know what events or people (or whatever the case may be) led to your decision to get a divorce. You should be honest but leave out any blame or hard feelings.
Keep it civil. Let your child know it was a decision made by both parents.
There is no need to tell him that the two of you have fallen out of love with each other. Your child may start putting together dots in his head and think this means you could fall out of love with him too.
Nothing changes the fact that you both created your babe and therefore will always owe each other (and your child) respect and love.
- Where will I sleep? This question may come in many forms.
Where will I go to school? Who will take me to soccer practice?
If your child is school aged, she will likely be most interested in how the divorce will affect her.
Make sure you have at least high level details worked out so that you have some answers to these questions. Let her know who she will live with, and that she will still be an active member of both parent’s lives.
3. Be Prepared for the Reaction
Prepare for the worst, but hope for the best. Each kiddo thinks differently, will process information differently, and react differently.
The news will forever alter your little munchkin’s life, and their reaction could vary from excitement to sadness to extreme anger. You should be prepared for any reaction.
The most important thing for you to do is keep your cool. Do not get upset or irritated at anything your child does or says in reaction to the news.
- She may not want to talk about it at all. That’s ok. Let her stew on it for a while. Do not try to push it on her. Try bringing back up again later.
- He may not believe you. This might be the case if your child has seen you and your spouse fight a lot and then make up. Let him know it is real and is going to happen.
- She may be angry. Your child may get mad…very mad. She may place the blame on one parent or both. Let her be mad. She will calm down.
- He may be relieved. If your child is a bit older and has seen you fight consistently with your spouse, he may be relieved that you are finally parting ways.
Or if he is younger, he may be excited that he is getting two rooms with double the toys. Excitement is okay too. Don’t try to push feelings of sadness on him.
Knowing how to tell your kids about divorce is only the beginning. Once you tell them, you have to prepare yourself for their reaction. Be there for them through the aftermath and offer brief (albeit honest) answers to their questions. Remember that they know more than you think they do, so don’t bother with lies.
You’re not looking forward to breaking your child’s heart. No parent ever is. Still, it’s a conversation you must have. You can’t prepare for every scenario, but you have to be there. They’ll adjust. It will be okay in the end. You just have to love them through it.
How’d you tell your kids about your divorce? Any regrets? What would you change about the experience? Did your relationship change afterward? Let us know in the gray comments section!
Knowing how to tell your kids about divorce is a huge step in the process of ending a marriage. And your story could help a parent struggling with this issue.
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