Talking to Your Child About Divorce

Talking to Children about Divorce

{This post is part 1 of our 2-part series on Children and Divorce.}

As parents, talking to your children about your decision to divorce will likely rank among the most important conversations you ever have with your kids. How and what you tell your children can help them feel loved and secure, even in the midst of turmoil and change.

However, you only get one chance to have that first conversation about divorce. When you know it’s time to tell the kids, here are five tips for turning “the talk” into a healthy, supportive dialogue you can all benefit from.

1. Make it a dual effort. In most circumstances, having both parents present when children learn about divorce is an almost non-negotiable. Your marriage may be over, but your relationship as co-parents will continue. Even if you can’t stand to be in the same room with each other right now, momentarily set aside the mutual loathing for the sake of your children. Seeing you both there is a way to visually reinforce that you will both remain in your children’s lives.

2. Choose your words carefully. We may say it all the time to our kids, but the word “love” is actually a very abstract concept for preschool-age children. This is because young kids don’t yet understand the difference between the romantic love adult partners feel towards one another and parent-child love. Saying something like, “Your dad and I don’t love each other any more, but we love you very much” may lead a young child to interpret love as something that can end without warning. To better word this same sentiment, think about saying something along the lines of, “We both love you very much and I respect your Daddy, but we are not living together or going to be together any more.”

Children may have lots of questions about where they will live and where they will go to school. Make your answers clear and reassuring, even if you need to say, “I don’t know the answer to your question, but I do know that we are going to just fine.”

3. Keep your own emotions in check. If you are feeling very angry or sad, put off the conversation until you know you can maintain a more even emotional keel. Young children often have never seen their parents cry before, and telling the children about the divorce and crying is not the first time you want your children to see it. Be authentic and truthful in letting your child know that you feel sad or unhappy, but keeping your composure can go a long way in helping your child feel secure.

4. Keep it private. Be ready for the possibility that your child may become emotional. Have the conversation at home, or some other quiet place where you won’t be disrupted. Don’t break the news to your child in a crowded restaurant or other public place.

5. Be respectful. If your spouse’s cheating led to your divorce, there is no reason to bring this up with your children. Children, even older children, still cannot understand the complexities of adult relationships, nor should they have to. Leave out the accusations and details; there is simply no reason for a child to be privy to these things.

6. Get help. In some cases of family issues during divorce, parents may feel better prepared to talk to their kids about divorce after, first meeting with a couples or family counselor who specializes in divorce therapy.  In certain circumstances, the counselor may even be on hand to facilitate this first conversation. Many families go to counseling as they navigate through divorce, either together or for individual counseling sessions. Taking the time to seek out help now can provide valuable emotional support in the months to come.