How To Talk To Your Kids About Divorce
By: Anika Nayak
When you and your partner are thinking about getting a divorce, it’s important to inform your children regarding what’s to come. Children in different age groups will have a different understanding of divorce, the reasons for it, and what the future may look like. Regardless, make sure you and your partner make plans to speak to your children about the separation, assuring them that it’s not their fault.
You’re probably wondering––how exactly should you go about sharing the news with your children? Below, Dr. Regine Muradian, PsyD, a clinical psychologist shares tips for how to talk to your kids about divorce.
Be mindful of when you break the news to your children.
A divorce is a life-changing event, which can be traumatic for children. “They will experience the loss of seeing a parent daily, and they have to change their living environment and adjust to a new way of life altogether,” Dr. Muradian says. Therefore, make sure you and your partner break the news to them at an appropriate time––a moment where they have time to process the news.
“Parents should plan on telling their kids of the separation together in a calm, non-distracting environment. Avoid breaking the news over the holidays or around the time of important events. Kids need structure and clarity on what will be changing, as the unknown can create anxiety, guilt, and self-blame,” Dr. Muradian says. Try telling them on a Friday or Saturday morning so they have time to digest the news and ask questions if needed.
Plan what you’ll say before talking to your children.
Divorce impacts children in different ways. Some children will adapt very quickly with this separation while others will feel low for some time. Be mindful of how you convey this news, as it can make a difference in the way your child takes it.
“Parents should break the news together and have a defined plan. They need to be prepared to explain why they are splitting up. This is important because it’s the first opportunity for the parents to show a united front. This is the first step of co-parenting,” Dr. Muradian says.
Keep reminding your child that it is not their fault.
Once you and your partner break the news to your children, they may think it is their fault or that they had something to do with it. “[Kids] will often blame themselves or think that the separation is due to something they did or said,” Dr. Muradian says. This is a very normal reaction, especially from children who do not want to see their parents getting divorced.
“It is important to immediately explain that the divorce or separation has nothing to do with their actions. Both parents should tell their children that they love them, which will not change due to the separation,” Dr. Muradian says. When conveying this, make sure you and your partner are presenting an united front.
Convey the news in a friendly and kind way.
It’s normal for your children to feel uncomfortable when you tell them you have some life-altering news.
“Parents should discuss together how they will explain why they are separating in a kid-friendly way. For example, they could say something like ‘Mommy and Daddy have decided not to live together anymore because we are no longer getting along. We have tried, but it’s best for us to not live together. Our love for you does not change, and we will always be here for you,’” Dr. Muradian says. Show them that you are there for them and will support them regardless of the emotions they may have about this change.
Do not bad mouth the parent you are separating from when you break the news to your children.
You may think one way about your partner prior to the divorce, but your children may think another way. When you and your partner are telling your children the news, avoid arguments or fights with each other. Focus the conversation on your children and how a divorce will change their lives instead of focusing on the reason behind the divorce.
“It is critical to be sensitive and mindful about how parents communicate about each other in front of their children when the other parent is not present. Parents should attempt not to bad mouth or speak negatively of the other parent in front of their children as this can create trauma, guilt, and triangulation. It also creates confusion and kids can feel caught in the middle instead of feeling safe and protected,” Dr. Muradian says.
Remember to ask your child if they have any questions about the news.
Even if divorce has been on your mind for a while, it may come as a shock to your children. It is important to understand how your children may take this news. Even though their reaction will not change your and your partner’s decision to separate, it can help you both support your children as they adjust to this change.
“Children are resilient and when we communicate with them and ask them how they feel, it helps everyone heal together. It is crucial to leave space for questions and to ask them how they feel about the news, as it makes them feel heard, valued, and validated. Let them know that you are available for any questions and that you will try your best to answer,” Dr. Muradian says.