Compassionate Guide for Talking to Kids About Divorce: Timing, Tips, and Methods
As a parent, the thought of talking to kids about divorce can seem awful. How will you make yourself clear? What if they only listen to part of what’s happening and grow up resenting you for something they don’t understand? How can you make them see this isn’t their fault?
It’s important to talk to your kids about your divorce and to know what you’re doing before you sit them down. That’s why we’re bringing you eleven tips for talking your children through your divorce in as healthy and positive of a way as possible.
Tell Them as Soon as Possible
In case you weren’t already aware, young children are perceptive when it comes to what’s going on around them. They will know something’s going on before too long and start to make their own assumptions, which can be much more damaging.
Share the information with them. Secrets do much more damage than facts, and you’re missing an opportunity to help your children grapple the problem with your help.
Discuss the Problem, as a Family
One great answer to the question, “how to talk to kids about divorce” is, simply, “do it as a family.”
Get everyone in the same room and hash it out. A divorce is a decision between two adults, and that’s fine, but your child is a part of this, too. Once you’ve decided to separate, get the family together and have a conversation about it. Don’t let them think this is an opportunity to change your mind, but rather for them to ask you any questions and tell you how they feel.
Also, remember to answer their questions honestly. You might think you’re sparing them some sort of heartache by not telling them about this little detail or that tiny issue. In reality, you’re creating pitfalls when it turns out you were keeping secrets or you forgot to mention something important.
Time It Right
A big part of doing this right is to pick the right time to let them know. When deciding how to tell kids about divorce, be very aware of what they do and at what time during the day.
Don’t talk about it with them they (or you) are tired or need to leave soon afterward. Maybe the conversation will be over quickly, and they’ll be ready to go on with their day soon afterward. But maybe it won’t, in which case you’ll need time to be there for them if there’s crying, hugging, or fighting to be done.
Don’t Complicate Matters
Young children do not understand the complex functions of an adult relationship. They also don’t usually want to understand them.
The best advice for how to talk to your kids about divorce is just to be straightforward with the facts. Be compassionate, obviously, and don’t put it in a way that will be hurtful to them. But tell them where they’ll be living, who will see them on which holidays, and how much time they’ll spend with each of you.
Stress How Unconditional Your Love Is
When telling kids about divorce, you should also remind them that your love for them doesn’t change in any way because of the divorce. The biggest thing a young child will typically fear is losing one or two of their parents. This applies to mortality, but also to your love. Reassure them that you will continue to love them for the rest of their lives.
Your child is impressionable, and your anger, worry, and doubts will stress them out. It may be difficult, but you have to appear calm and save your problems for other adults who are willing to listen. Your children need assurances that everything is going to work out just fine.
Be Respectful With Their Other Parent
The best way to make your child feel safe and secure is to show them you and their other parent can still work together, even if you can’t be together anymore. Talk to your ex-partner with respect whenever the child is around.
Whatever your problems are, if your child sees this as the norm, it will help take some of the burdens off of them. And the respect may help you process this, as well.
Many common child custody issues come from the couple’s inability to put aside their differences and work together. Consistent respect from the onset can help to avoid nastiness, down the line.
Own Your Divorce
Children will take on the blame for a divorce if left to their own devices. Maybe they got bad grades or you scolded them for something. Even if they have made many mistakes recently, you don’t want them thinking this is their fault.
Make sure to look out for changes in their behavior, such as excessive compliance or suddenly challenging you. Let them know that it is their parents who made this decision, and it had nothing to do with them.
Listen To Them
Pay attention and let your kids know you’re available to talk. Every child is different, and yours could take anywhere from a few days to a few months to even realize they have specific questions. Be ready to answer questions and, as mentioned above, be honest as far as you can.
It’s pretty common for children to act out during a divorce. It’s important not to lose your temper or take it personally when they do, as that can cause unnecessary guilt.
Common reactions may include:
- Obsessive fear
- Bouts of anger and temper tantrums
- Crying to extreme lengths
- Emotional inconsistencies
Your child may lose sleep or have nightmares or even wet the bed. It’s crucial that you stay calm and handle these situations as confidently as possible. Talk to them about what they’re going through and remind them that time heals all wounds.
Don’t Break Routines
Deciding when to tell kids about divorce comes down to timing, and that timing is important in a lot of areas of their life. Kids need structure, and you have to remain consistent during the transition so that they don’t feel the brunt of this change in dynamic.
Children need to see the world as safe, predictable, and dependable. Meals, homework time, bath time and bedtime should stay business as usual for their sake. Reassure them, vocally, that nothing is going to change, and then remind them of that if they act out or want special treatment.
Talking to Kids About Divorce Is Possible
Change is never easy. It can be stressful and the struggle can take a long time. But it doesn’t have to lead to damages and resentment.
When a child whose parents stay confident and mature goes through a divorce, they have that stability to lean on when things get tough. And nothing lays the groundwork for that kind of consistency better than talking to kids about divorce.
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