By the age of 9, most kids will know the meaning of divorce if it hasn’t happened in their family already – either from friends, teachers, or overhearing other adult conversations. But most children will not be emotionally or mentally prepared to experience their parents living apart until it happens.
When approaching your kids about your divorce, keep in mind that they will be thinking about how it will affect them, such as with whom they will be living, where they will attend school, how often they will see the other parent, etc. As a parent, it is important to be prepared with these answers while reassuring them that they will always be cared for and loved.
Approaching Your Kids with Divorce – What to Expect
When telling your children about your divorce, the most important thing you can do is to be there for them. Whether you are answering their questions, reassuring them that it is not their fault, or taking hours to explain what will happen, they will depend on you for support and understanding throughout the transition.
Because the concepts of loss and change are associated with divorce, kids can find them to be stressful and scary. Make sure to be ready for any kind of emotion they will experience, such as anger, fear, confusion, nervousness, rebelliousness, or even if they hide their emotions altogether.
Inform their teachers of your decision
Before telling your kids, informing their teachers will allow them to understand any different behaviors from your kids. Kindly ask them not to mention the topic, but to be calm and understanding if your children approach them with questions.
Tips for Telling Your Child About Your Divorce:
When preparing to tell your children about your divorce, be sure to have a well thought-out plan that includes the best time and place, common questions, who they can and cannot tell, involving and cooperating with the co-parent, etc. The goal is to make your children feel comforted and loved, reassuring them that both of you will be there for them when they need it.
Timing is everything
While there is really no perfect time to tell your children about the divorce, the best time is when everyone has at least a few hours to explain the situation, answer questions, and give hugs and support. Picking a weekday after school and work or during the weekend should allow everyone enough time to explain and accept what will happen in the future. Also, make sure that there are no distractions during the discussion so you will have their full attention.
The last time you want to tell them is before school, sports practice, or bedtime. Any distractions from school or their sleep schedule can cause additional stress and difficulties during the transition.
Both parents must be present
While you may not be able to agree on many things, you both must be flexible and cooperative when approaching your kids. For their sake, it is best that you both agree on what will be said to them at the same time to avoid confusion. This will also ensure their trust in both of you as parents.
Make it simple
Breaking the news to your kids that you and the co-parent will be getting a divorce will already be overwhelming for them. As they quickly try to grasp the concept, it is best to use smaller words. Whether you choose to say that one of you will be living with an aunt or uncle (make sure to use the term that refers to their relationship with the individual) or that one of you will be moving out, keeping the situation as simple as possible will allow the smoothest transition.
Tell them the basics of the plan
If you have already configured the details, they only need to know about what will affect them directly. For example, you can let them know that one of you will be moving out but will be taking them to school everyday. You can also reassure them by saying that you understand that it is different, but you will make it work so that they know that to expect.
Don’t blame your spouse
For the sake of your kids, arguing in front of them will make the situation much worse. Part of the planning process is to agree on what will be said before sitting down with them so that there are no surprises during “the talk.”
Even if the breakup really was triggered by the other partner, keeping it from the kids will spare them feelings of betrayal, anger, and hate towards the other parent. To best avoid this problem, think of your kids as half of the other parent, and you don’t want to hurt their feelings by blaming your partner for their lying, cheating, etc.
Assure your kids that it is not their fault
Even if they don’t say it, your kids may blame themselves for your breakup. Thinking that if they had behaved better, you wouldn’t have disagreed nor argued as much as you did. Some kids also prefer to keep their thoughts and feelings to themselves that can lead to a bigger problem down the road.
But you must always explain that your divorce is NOT their fault. Explain to them that it has been something that you have been trying to fix for a long time but have not been able to overcome. Apologize to them that it has to be this way, but it was never caused by something they had done.
After the Conversation
When children are young, they need consistency and repetition so they know what to do or where to go when you are not around, such as where their classroom is or what time to be out at the bus stop.
Depending on their age, you will need to have more than one conversation with them because they will have a lot of questions in the beginning. But reassuring them that you love them and that they did not cause the divorce is most important during the transition.
Be aware of their feelings
After the initial conversation, pay close attention to their feelings and actions, especially during the first few days. Ask them questions about how they feel, how their day went, if they have friends whose parents also had a divorce, etc. Asking them these questions will make them feel that you still care for them, to prove that you still love them after the divorce. It will also help them feel like their world isn’t turned upside down.
What to do if they catch you or your spouse crying
Kids need to know that parents cry too sometimes and that it is OK. Despite this sad situation, reassure them that you will help them through all of it.
If the other parent has scared or upset them in any way, don’t berate your spouse – it will only worsen the situation for your children. Instead, comfort them by saying that your partner is upset and they didn’t mean what they said.
Work with your spouse through the divorce
Although it may feel like you can’t reason with them anymore, treating them nicely will reassure your kids that they won’t have to be embarrassed to have parents that don’t get along. If at any time they find you arguing with eachother, kindly tell your spouse that they are listening and that it would be best to continue the conversation elsewhere.
When they see that you and your spouse can speak nicely to one another, they will start to think that some things can stay the same, like family routines and traditions. Overall, this will help them adjust and recover from the difficult situation.
Work with an Attorney
Especially if this is your first divorce, a divorce attorney can help you through the legal process as well as the division of assets from your marriage. If you live in the Oak Lawn, IL area, the divorce lawyers at Berry. K. Tucker & Associates, Ltd. will provide you with a free consultation while listening all details of your case.
A child custody attorney may also be necessary if you and your spouse are experiencing difficulties in establishing the times the kids will be with each parent. The attorneys at Berry K. Tucker & Associates, Ltd. are also experienced in this field to help you fight for the best interests of you and your children.
How to Proceed After the Divorce
If you choose to work with an attorney like Berry K. Tucker & Associates, Ltd., you will find that the divorce process will run much smoother. They will take care of the paperwork, prepare your case according to your wants and needs, and fight to establish the best times for you to have with your children. With an experienced divorce attorney, you can ensure that your needs as well as those of your children are handled professionally.
After working with your child custody attorney, kindly inform your kids of the plan so they will have an idea of what to expect. Try to keep it as simple as possible to prevent them from feeling overwhelmed or nervous. Remember, keeping consistency, reassuring them you love them, and answering their questions are the most important steps you can take for the sake of your children. But if you need extra help, don’t hesitate to reach out to other family members, friends, or family therapists for support.
Andrew J. “AJ” Decker, IV, grew up in Live Oak, Florida and graduated from Suwannee High School in 1997. He attended Emory University, earning a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science in 2001. He subsequently attended Florida Coastal School of Law, graduating with high honors in 2004. AJ represents client in civil litigation matters, focusing…
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