We are often asked by clients about breaking the news to their children. We often suggest they take home some of our books in our library but we also discuss some basic takeaways based on our reading and experience. Below are some general tips for telling the children about your divorce or legal separation. Recent research suggests that 75% of divorcing parents dedicate less than 10 minutes total speaking to their kids about the divorce. This can be very unhealthy for children as it’s crucial to sit down with your kids and break the news gently and as a family in a way that will explain things and not leave them feeling hurt.
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Talk About It As A Family, Plan Your Talk, Know Your Details First, Let Them Ask Questions, Don’t Over-Share
Before you decide to break the news of divorce to children, it’s very important that you wait to deliver the news only until you know your plan. Kids will want the basics and so you’ll need to be prepared to tell them where they will be staying, where mom and dad will be living, when they will be with each parent, if one parent has found a different place, tell them where it is and bring them over to see it. They want the basic plan and the reassurance of knowing they’ll see both mom and dad and ideally you will be all together sometimes for sporting events, birthdays, holidays and other celebrations. Kids tend to need to know everything, all of the details, and they always have a million questions about things. This is why it is important to work out of all of the details with your soon to be ex spouse before you sit down and have a talk with your children. It’s probably a good idea to hold off on the talk until all of the details are known to avoid confusion.
When breaking the news of a divorce to your kids you’ll want to do it as a family. Sit down with your spouse and all of the kids during a family dinner and break the news as softly as you can. Weekends are best — if possible at the start of a weekend so you will be around for them to talk to or be close to during the immediate days after the talk. Tell their teachers the day before you tell the kids, to prepare the teachers for potential upset or acting up. Ask teachers to be sensitive, and discreet with the information – you are asking them to be understanding, but NOT to ask the children anything about it, or mention it unless the child mentions it.
When delivering the news, be sure that you don’t point fingers or show anger at each other. Your kids are likely to show some emotions which can fluster your thoughts. This is why it would be a good idea to write out what you’re going to say and rehearse it with your partner so that you deliver a mutually agreed upon message without being thrown off by the moment.
The message should include that the divorce is something that both mom and dad have thought about and decided upon after a very long time of working to make things better. And that this decision has nothing to do with the children or something they did or said – it’s about the adults who want to live a different life. We are still a family and each parent wants to be mom and dad and we aren’t going away.
Be sure to keep the conversation simple and don’t overshare the details. For instance, tell them that you just weren’t happy together anymore, but don’t loop them in on details like Dad or Mom had an affair or lost all the money. This is too much information for a child to process, and it could lead them to resent one of or both of you.
We don’t need to tell you this. . . kids love to ask questions and they want to know everything there is to know. Let the kiddos know at the outset of the conversation that they can ask any questions anytime, and that no questions or comment are stupid. And in turn, you’ll need to be prepared to answer any questions that they might have. A good idea is to think in advance with your soon to be ex-spouse the questions your kids may ask so that you have mutually agreed upon answers and an agreed-upon tone. After breaking the news to them open up the door to their curiosity by saying that they may now ask questions one and a time and then do your best to give them answers.
We encourage you to hire a parenting coach or therapist to help you navigate co-parenting before, during and after divorce. San Diego Divorce Mediation is here to help you stay civil and divorce peacefully.