When you decide to get a divorce, it’s a difficult time for everyone involved – but this is especially true for your children. In fact, breaking the news to your children may be the most difficult conversation you ever have. Most likely they won’t really understand everything that’s happening, and you will want to reassure them in their hurt.
How do you do this, though, while still clearly conveying the fact that their parents are going to be apart from now on?
Here are several valuable tips for telling your kids about your divorce with gentleness and compassion.
Be the best you first
Divorce is painful, and you are likely processing a whirlwind of emotions. If you come to your children during a personal storm, you’ll only make it more difficult for them. Do what you can to come to them in the best frame of mind possible. Practice self-care, visit a counselor for help, and learn how to get a handle on your emotions before you ever sit down with your children.
Have a plan in place
This is a conversation your children will remember for the rest of their lives. It’s not a time to improvise, because the potential for additional trauma to your children is too high. Sit down with a pencil and paper and draft what you want to say ahead of time. Run it by a friend or a counselor. Practice speaking in a calm, compassionate voice. Use language that your children will understand.
Pick the right time
You need to wait for a relatively calm moment to have this important, life-changing conversation with your children. It’s best to avoid transition times, like heading to work or school, or times when you can’t be there for reassurance right afterward. Perhaps a weekend afternoon is the quietest time for your family. Make sure you can comfort your children after they receive the news. Also, wait until you are certain the divorce really is occurring before you break the news. Otherwise, you may unnecessarily confuse and upset your children.
Deliver the news together
The best scenario is sitting down as a whole family and having both you and your spouse deliver the news. Children do best if they hear “we decided” rather than “Mom decided” or “Dad decided.” By working as a team, you will both promote harmony and respect and cushion the blow for your children.
Repeat: It’s not your fault
Children tend to blame themselves for their parents’ problems. Even if you never hear your children say that they feel the divorce is their fault, tell them over and over that the problems existed only between you and your ex-spouse.
Assure them with unconditional love
No matter how often you will see your children after the divorce occurs, tell them that you will always love them the same way as before. They need to hear this again and again as you set up separate households and as the custody agreement takes hold.
Simplicity is best
Resist the temptation to vent your frustrations about your ex-spouse. Keep the information simple and free from blame. A younger child may need only a few sentences, while an older child may want more information. Answer their questions carefully, respecting their need for assurance while also respecting their cherished view of the other parent. It’s also important to keep legal papers out of sight and refrain from having legal discussions in the hearing of your child. They don’t need to know every detail.
Expect the unexpected
You know your children. Some may explode in anger and tears, while others may withdraw in silence upon hearing this difficult news. It’s wise to expect the unexpected.
Your independent child may suddenly become clingy, or your sweet-natured child could turn moody and defiant. Remember that the only world ever known is being turned completely turned upside down, and the two people they love most are no longer together. It may take a long time for your child to adjust, and your patience and compassion is essential for their well-being.
Follow up individually
Though it’s best to break the news to the family unit, it’s important to follow up one-on-one with each child. They may open up to you with hidden fears and insecurities. Watch your child for signs of depression or self-harm and get them professional help if needed.
As much as possible, provide a consistent family schedule. Routines for bedtimes, weekends, and holidays can be soothing rhythms for your child as they adjust to new visitation schedules. Keep your promises to head off disappointment.
A qualified and compassionate Florida family law attorney can help you through this challenging time. Schedule an appointment to learn about the options available to you.