Often kids don’t know why their parents got divorced since were never told correctly what happened.
Talking to your children about your separation and divorce is often the hardest and most emotional thing you need to do, but also the most important thing to do!
Why we need to tell them, in the right way:
• Huge influence of on the level of trust children feel in the future for other people and their own relationships. But also, built trust in you since don’t have to second guess what happens – you are open to them.
• Will influence their adjustment to the situation now and in the future.
• Will help them to use the right words to other people, when they have to explain their situation. But also, when they want to ask us questions about the situation.
• Less likely to feel guilt towards them self about the separation since they know it is an ‘adult’ thing.
• Will make them more accepting of the situation
Things Take time:
1. Say it together: This will reassure them that they are not being abandoned and that you will cooperate in their future. Though, if there is too much conflict between parents, it’s best for only one parent to explain what is going on.
2. Think in advance about a good time. Make sure they don’t have something important on afterwards since the conversation might trigger emotions. But you can plan an activity to do together.
3. Create a safe environment for these discussions with your children. Choose a place where your children will feel comfortable, secure and calm.
4. If your children have a big age difference you can have the talk with each child alone. Their abilities to understand the situation and their reactions to the news may differ.
5. Use a child-friendly explanation and words They might not need to hear about affairs, violence, mistrust, hate etc. Tell the children, in general child appropriate terms, don’t use adult language or include your emotions such as anger or sadness, hurt or unfairness.
6. Tell the truth but not necessarily the full story. Long-winded reasons may only confuse them. Pick something simple and honest, like ‘We can’t get along anymore’ or ‘we have decided that we will be happier living separately’
7. Say ‘I love you’. However simple it may sound, letting your children know throughout the conversation that your love for them hasn’t changed is a powerful message. Tell them you’ll still be caring for them in every way, from fixing their breakfast to helping with homework.
8. Address changes and what will stay the same. Pre-empt your children’s questions about changes in their lives by acknowledging that some things will be different now, and other things won’t i.e. Where will they live? Logistic about living arrangements. Will they go to same school? Will they be able to take their pet with them? Will their social life change? I.e. You will go to the same school, you will get a new bed at mum’s house and keep the same in dads. Sit and make a list of changes and what will stay the same.
9. Avoid blaming: Yes you might be angry at your ex, but keep it ‘clean’. It’s vital to be honest with your children, but without being critical of your ex. This can be especially difficult when there have been hurtful events, such as infidelity, but be mature enough NOT to play the blame game.
10.Make it short and clear: Keep in mind that most children would benefit from several shorter talks, rather than receiving all of the information at once – plan what you have to say, say it and leave it there; If they are quiet during the discussion, remember that children need time to digest information. Be prepared to revisit the discussion and let them know that you are willing to talk about things as often as they need or want to.
11.Children need to know that separation and divorce is not their fault. We’ve made mistakes and we’re sorry that we are causing you pain, but it IS not your fault, keep saying it. It is an ‘adult’ thing and we got in under control.
12.Be prepared for emotions: telling your children that you are separating or getting a divorce will trigger different responses that can vary from confusion, fear and sadness to anger, guilt and shock – allow that to happy and come from a place of ‘I am listening to what you are saying – I understand what you are feeling – and I accept it, it is OK to feel that way. Try not to tell them what to feel instead or what not to feel i.e. Don’t be sad. There is not need to worry. Try to be strong. Calm down etc. Just listen.
13.Give your children lots of opportunities to ask questions and share their thoughts and feelings. Because younger children may be afraid to ask questions or don’t yet have enough experience to express their ideas, you may want to raise some questions that may, be on their minds. You can even write out some cards that they can turn over one by one: ‘Where will I live’, ‘where will the cat stay’, ‘Will I be with my siblings’, ‘was it my/our fault’, ‘will you ever get back together’, ‘will you both be at my birthday’, ‘will we all be together for Christmas’, ‘will we go on holidays together’, ‘can I still visit uncle Ben (dad’s brother) when I am with mum’, ‘do you still love each other’ etc.
Plan the talk:
• When will you say it?
• Where will you say it?
• Who will be present?
• What will you say?
• What will you NOT say?
CLICK here to watch ‘Dealing what follows after separation’
Mette Theilmann – part of the Parenting Community team