How to tell your child about your divorce
"We are getting a divorce." Your child will remember the moment that they hear those five words for the rest of their life. There is no way to sugar coat it. Telling your child that you are getting a divorce will be difficult and painful for both you and for them. However, there are ways that you and your spouse can minimize the impact that your divorce has on your child.
Do not rush telling your child about your decision to divorce. As a parent, you should take the time to plan a proper strategy with your spouse. The two of you will need to agree on what you will say, where you will tell them, and when it should happen. If you and your ex have a problematic relationship, it might be in your best interest to seek a mediator or therapist's help to assist during the process.
The first and most important part of the planning process is deciding what to say. The narrative should explain your feelings, how you will work together as parents, and your divorce's predicted outcome (if you have an idea of what it will be). Avoid blaming each other as it creates an impossible situation for you and your child. Every word has the power to shape your child's opinion of you, your spouse, marriage, and even themselves.
The age of your child is also an essential factor to consider in deciding what to say. If your child is younger, it is best to have a simple or blanketed conversation with them, while older children will want to know more about your divorce. If you have multiple children with varying age ranges, it might be best to have a blanketed conversation with them all and then check in with your older children later.
Next, you will have to decide where and when to talk to your child. Time and place can have just as much of an impact on your child as what you tell them. We recommend telling your child at home where they are comfortable, feel safe, and have the privacy to process and react to the information. Timing is everything when talking to your child. The best time to tell your child is during a weekend. Weekends will allow you all to be there for each other and spend time together. Avoid birthdays, holidays, or any other special occasion to avoid associating them with your divorce. If you have multiple children, make sure that they are together when you share the news. The last thing that you want is the news catching one of them off guard, or for them to hear it from someone outside of your family.
Telling your child about your divorce will bring uncertainty into their lives. They will have questions ranging from the reason for your divorce to their future living arrangements. Try to answer them as honestly as possible and without associating blame or negativity with your spouse.
Give your child time to process the news and be prepared for adverse reactions. Age has a lot to do with how your child will react. Younger children might be confused or sad while children in grade school and adolescents are more likely to have a strong reaction to the news and act out. After you talk to your child, be on the lookout for unusual behavior at home, and ask your child's teacher to report any school behavior issues. If your child is college-aged, they are more likely to understand and support your decision to divorce. Older children are more independent, and while the news might hurt them, you can expect them to be more concerned with how you and your spouse are handling the divorce.
No matter how your child reacts, you should respect their feelings and let them know that you and your spouse will always be there for them.