Telling your children about divorce will be one of the most critical presentations of your life. What you say now will forever impact the well-being of your children. Findings published in Psychology Today show that the memory of being told about divorce is something that sticks with children, no matter how much we hope as parents the memory will fade.
We aren’t telling you this to add more stress or guilt to an already highly charged and emotional situation. We’re sharing this with you, so you know that this isn’t the time to wing it. Plan and prepare for this conversation, and set the stage for a positive, healthy co-parenting relationship.
1. Write it out. Yep. Script it. Moreover, don’t script it by yourself. Script it with your spouse and tell your children together. Most children don’t yet have the cognitive ability to process the complexities of relationships or the idea that there are multiple truths. Children think very black and white. If they hear one story from you and another story from your spouse, they won’t know which to believe and will most likely assume one parent is lying.
2. Be mature. This conversation is not the time to let your emotions get the better of you or to blame or accuse your spouse. Your children love both of their parents. They don’t want one lousy parent and one good parent. After all, what does that make them: good or bad? They want and need two good parents.
3. Allow for time. Ideally, you and your spouse will tell your children at least 2-3 weeks before separation and have a plan that you can share with the kids regarding what things in their life will remain the same and what things will be different. Who will take them to school? Who will take them to activities? Where will they live? Schedule at least an hour to have this discuss with your children and tell all of them at once. Don’t burden older kids and try to shelter younger ones. Let them support one another. Initially letting the kids know is only the beginning. Adjusting to divorce is going to be a process so plan on having multiple discussions about the subject and be prepared to reassure your children that everything will be ok continually.
4. Stages of development. Understand where your children are in their stages of development and be prepared to address the needs of each child a little differently. For example, a pre-school-age child has very little understanding of cause an effect or even the ability to think toward the future. Short, simple explanations will work best. For school-age children, they are still very ego-centric and thus may feel like the divorce is somehow their fault. The American Academy of Pediatrics has some vital information about the type of messages and unspoken questions you should be prepared to answer, such as: Was this my fault? Could I have done something to make you stay together? If I promise to behave, will you get back together?
5. Move forward. Once the children have been told, it’s important to plan on plenty of additional time to talk, but it’s also important to maintain routines. Maintaining a routine shows your children that life is going to move on and that the divorce isn’t going to change everything in their lives. Tell other people who are involved in your children’s care about the situation, so they too are prepared to address any questions the kids may have and can alert you to signs your child might be struggling.
Remember, in every situation, the real key to good parenting is love and attention. This is a time to provide your children with plenty of love, compassion, and reassurance that even though your family is different now, it is still a family.