Talking to your kids about divorce will probably be the most difficult conversation you'll ever have. They likely don't care that up to 50 percent of married couples in the United States will get divorced, according to the American Psychological Association. They only know that their family is changing.
There is no perfect way to break the news of divorce. But, here are some tips to help you speak with your kids about what's happening.
Plan your chat.
This isn't the type of conversation that you improvise. Prepare what you'll say to the kids before you sit down with them. Talk about some key messages you want the kids to hear, such as that you both love them, you aren't going to be married anymore, and it isn't their fault. And discuss how you'll answer some questions they may have like where they'll live or go to school. Know that children may react differently. Some may be sad and want things to stay the same. Some may be happy that the fighting is ending. Some may have mixed emotions, expressing both relief and loss.
Time it right.
There's never a good time to break the news of divorce. But before you're heading off to work or out of town, as your child is headed to school or baseball practice or just before bed aren't good times. You want to break the news at a time when you'll be available afterward to chat, hug and reassure them. And be sure that you're definitely separating or divorcing, not just thinking about it. Uncertainty will only confuse your child and cause more worry.
Keep it simple.
Stick to clear, basic and age-appropriate facts. Don't blame anyone for what's happening. Otherwise, kids may feel like they caused the divorce or that they should choose sides. Explain that you'll be living separately but that both parents still love them. Don't go into any details about the divorce's cause like alcohol or drug abuse or infidelity. Avoid speaking in an angry tone; instead, conduct yourself calmly. And use the word "we" as much as possible during your conversation.
Present a united front.
Both of you need to talk to the entire family together. Then follow up with each child separately after this initial conversation. Even if one parent does all the talking, act like a team. That will help emphasize that you love your kids the same as you always have. And, the kids will only hear one version of the story, and it will make it seem that your divorce is a mutual decision. Plus, it will help preserve your child's sense of trust in both of you.
Show that you're there for them.
That means you can answer questions anytime. And if they're feeling sad or blue, that's fine. Tell them, "We're all disappointed but we need to make this change to do what's best for our family." Be sure they know that they'll still be safe and secure.
Stress your love.
Explain that you're both still their parents, and you'll always love them. Things may be different, but you'll get through this situation. If you have young children, do your best to maintain routines, expectations and rules. Children will feel more stable if things remain as consistent as possible. And provide extra affection and reassurance.
Give kids time.
Allow children some time to process the information, especially if their living or school arrangements are changing drastically. They may yell, cry, hide in their rooms or slam doors. See if your child needs some space or a hug. You may have to speak to the kids a few times. A few short conversations may be more effective than a single long one. Even after the news has sunk in, allow children plenty of opportunities to ask questions. You may have to field questions for weeks or months. Ensure that your child knows that you're open to answering inquiries about the divorce at any time.