The Big D: How to Break the News to Your Children

 In Divorce

You aren’t the first person to dread telling your children about your upcoming divorce, and you certainly won’t be the last. Here are some tips that other parents have shared to make the conversation easier on everyone involved.

1. Consider Their Age 

What you tell your children, and how they will react to the news, should vary depending on their age.

Preschoolers need concrete and clear explanations about what the divorce will mean for them. Tell them where they will live, who will look after them and what their daily life will look like. With this age group, you can expect to have this conversation and answer the same questions more than once.

School-aged kids need more of an explanation than preschoolers. Your kids might blame themselves or feel like it’s their job to “fix” whatever they think is wrong with the marriage. Make sure they understand that your decision isn’t about them and not something they can influence. Give your children ample time to ask questions and express their emotions. Be prepared to answer the question, “why?” (but make sure you don’t blame the other parent). You may even consider purchasing books to help your children understand divorce better and connect with how they are feeling.

Older kids have a pretty good understanding of divorce, and may have friends with divorced parents. They may also be going through significant hormonal changes that, combined with the change in their family structure, may come out as anger or moodiness. Be patient with them. Older children need open and honest communication and time to digest the information.

2. Tell Your Children Together

Sit down with your spouse and make a plan about how you will tell the children together. Anticipate any questions and address concerns in advance. Plan to tell your children that the divorce isn’t their fault, that you love them and that your love for them won’t change.

Then, gather everyone together and have the initial discussion as a family. While you may think it’s best to tell the older brother first, imagine how he will feel having to keep the secret, or how your younger kids will feel when they learn they were the last to know. You can address each child’s individual needs in separate conversations (don’t worry, there will be ample time for that).

Why should both spouses be present? Your children need to know that you are still able to work together. If you make the announcement together, it becomes less about “who did what” and more about your children and their future. Be prepared to present a unified front during this conversation and, if possible, throughout your divorce.

3. Avoid Blaming Your Spouse

No matter what the cause of your divorce, your children do not need to play a part in the blame game. Don’t bad mouth your spouse now or in the future. It may make you feel better to show your kids you are the “good guy,” but it won’t help your children, your divorce or your future as a co-parent. In fact, many children who are thrown into the blame game end up resenting their parents for making them a part of it.

This Conversation Will Be Hard

Yet, with the right preparation and thought, you can make it easier on your children. Come prepared to present a unified front, answer your children’s questions honestly and avoid blame. Try to calm down as much as possible before the conversation – the more nervous you are, the more frightened your children will be. Remember, this is about your children and your love for them – nothing is more important than that.

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