You have made the tough decision to end your marriage. Now you face the challenging task of explaining this decision to your children. What do you say? How do you begin? When should you tell them? These are all valid questions and they deserve careful consideration.
How you proceed will likely be influenced by your child’s age. The care you take to explain divorce will ultimately help to ease the stress of divorcethat many children face.
Explaining divorce to children at any age is difficult. However, younger children almost always react with feelings of confusion and fright as they face the loss of familiarity, predictability, and ultimately their sense of safety and security. Addressing these insecurities appropriately involves these critical steps:
- Do not keep the situation a secret or spring your divorce on your children at the last minute;
- Parents should break the news together so that children hear the same thing from both parents;
- Explain the basic logistics of their new situation (where they will sleep, who picks them up from school, when the changes will take place, etc.);
- Assure them that you both will make sure everything is fine for them;
- Keep your explanations simple and age appropriate;
- Reassure your children that they are not to blame; and
- Be sure to tell them that you both still love them unconditionally.
Your children will need your support more than ever as they deal with the breakup. It is an emotional process that will not be easy for anyone. Let them know that being upset or sad is expected, and that those feelings are okay.
Maintaining your role as a strong, supportive parent may be challenging during this period. Avoid the temptation to vent to your children about your ex-spouse or to lean on them for your own emotional support. Burdening children with these adult realities is unfair and likely to damage their long-term well being.
As parents, you need to use every resource at your disposal to minimize the negative impact divorce can have on your children. Looking to friends and family for support and seeking counseling for yourself and your children are great ways to help deal with the emotional situation.
To handle the legal aspects of your divorce, the guidance of a trusted family law attorney or mediator is critical. Putting into place the proper legal resources will help you best prepare for the divorce process, which in turn allows you more time to focus on being attentive to your family’s needs during this difficult time.
Purdue University, Provider Parent Partnership, Explaining Divorce to Children, Authors: Nithyakala Karuppaswamy with Judith A. Myers-Walls, Ph.D., CFLE. (Accessed February 28, 2012) http://www.ces.purdue.edu/providerparent/family-child%20relationships/explaindivorce.htm
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Facts for Families: Children and Divorce. (Accessed February 29, 2012) http://www.aacap.org/cs/root/facts_for_families/children_and_divorce