How to Explain Divorce to Children? In a word: carefully. To say that you should treat the situation with kid gloves is not only accurate; it is an understatement. Children thrive on stability, and although they often push the boundaries, they do best when they know what to expect in their home situation.
A divorce can easily upset the balance of their whole world and lead to long-term consequences. For this reason, many parents try to stave off this type of permanent split for as long as possible. And yet, a terrible home life with parents that hate each other is really no solution. So if you have tried everything and you can’t avoid the awful truth any longer (that a divorce is imminent), it’s time to sit your kids down and have the talk. Here are a few tips to help you broach the topic in the least harmful way and help your children cope with divorce.
For starters, you need to keep in mind that kids are pretty savvy. The divorce rate may not be half of all marriages, as many pundits claim (it’s closer to 1 in 3 marriages ending in a legal split these days), but that doesn’t mean kids are any less aware of the phenomenon. And unless you and your spouse are masters of deception, they’ve probably realized that something is amiss by now. So once you’ve made a final decision, you shouldn’t wait to approach your kids about it. Otherwise, they may start to suspect that you’ve been lying to them (which is bound to make the situation all the more difficult).
Once you have decided to have the conversation, talk to your soon-to-be ex-spouse about how you’re going to handle it. You are both still parents, even though one of you will likely no longer be living in the household. This means that you both need to be on hand to explain the situation and reassure the children. They will have many questions and you need to be prepared to answer them so that you’re on the same page. You should have a plan for the partner leaving, including a date for the move and a known address. And you need to make arrangements for visitation from the get-go so that the kids don’t feel like they’ve been abandoned. Also, you’ll want to try to explain adequately the reasons for the divorce without addressing topics that are unfair to burden your kids with (such as infidelity). Let them know that although you no longer love each other enough to stay together, your mutual love for your children will never change.
There’s no denying that a divorce is fraught with negative feelings and that these can derail your best efforts to be civil, but if you both love your children you need to try to keep your personal feelings out of the equation so that you can mutually provide the support your kids will need during this difficult time of upheaval and uncertainty. Any Los Angeles, New York, or Austin divorce lawyer will tell you the same. And for the sake of your children try to create amicable divorce and custody settlements so that their lives remain as stable and normal as possible under the circumstances.
How to Explain Divorce to Children
Explaining divorce to children can be a sensitive and challenging task.
Here are some steps you can follow to help explain divorce in a thoughtful and age-appropriate manner:
- Plan the conversation: Choose an appropriate time and place to talk to your children about the divorce. Make sure you have enough time to answer their questions and provide comfort and support.
- Work as a team: If possible, both parents should be present during the conversation. This sends a message that the decision is mutual and that both parents will continue to be involved in their lives.
- Use simple and clear language: Tailor your explanation to the age and maturity level of your children. Use simple, honest, and age-appropriate language they can understand. Avoid using blame or going into excessive detail about the reasons for the divorce.
- Assure them it’s not their fault: Make it clear that the divorce is not their fault. Children often blame themselves when their parents separate, so reassure them that the decision is between the adults and has nothing to do with them.
- Emphasize love and support: Reassure your children that both parents still love them and will continue to be there for them. Explain that even though the family is changing, the love and care from both parents remain constant.
- Address practical changes: Discuss how daily routines, such as living arrangements and schedules, might change. Let them know about any upcoming changes but also highlight stability and consistency in their lives.
- Encourage the expression of feelings: Give your children permission to express their emotions and let them know that it’s normal to feel sad, angry, confused, or any other emotion. Encourage them to talk about their feelings and provide a safe space for them to express themselves.
- Be patient and supportive: Understand that children may need time to process the information and may have ongoing questions and concerns. Be patient and offer support throughout the process, encouraging open communication.
- Maintain consistency and routine: Consistency is crucial for children during times of change. Try to maintain established routines as much as possible, including school, extracurricular activities, and time with friends and family.
- Seek professional help if needed: If you notice significant behavioral changes or prolonged emotional distress in your children, consider seeking the support of a therapist or counselor who specializes in working with children of divorced parents.
Every child is unique, and their reactions to divorce may vary. It’s essential to approach the conversation with empathy, understanding, and a focus on their well-being.