When you have children, going through a divorce can feel ten times more difficult. A divorce can have serious, lasting effects on kids if it isn’t handled the right way.
Thankfully, you can prepare your kids for the process and assure them that everything is going to be okay.
Talking with your children before the divorce process actually starts is the best way to prepare them for what is going to happen.
If you’re able to do it as a couple, that’s even better. But even if you have to talk to your children on your own, making sure they know what’s going on can make it easier for them to handle. As a result, they’re less likely to experience negative emotional effects now and as they get older.
Let’s look at four helpful tips you can use to tell your children you’re getting divorced.
Tip #1: Don’t Blame the Other Person
Again, when you tell your children you are getting divorced, doing so as a united front is best. But, if you have to do it on your own, don’t blame the other parent for everything.
Your children don’t need to know every detail about why you’re getting a divorce. When you start to blame the other parent, you’re putting your children in an awkward position. They might start to feel as though they have to choose sides. Or they may look at you or their other parent differently.
That puts a lot of pressure and confusion on children. So, try to keep your language about your spouse as neutral as possible.
Tip #2: Make Sure They Know They Aren’t the Cause
It’s not uncommon for children to think their parents’ divorce is somehow their fault. It’s crucial to make sure your children know the divorce has nothing to do with them.
Again, you don’t need to go into detail about why you’re splitting up. Saying something like, “Your mom/dad is a great person, we just can’t live together anymore,” is a great way to remain neutral toward your spouse while giving your children just enough information to be satisfied.
They might have more questions about why you’re getting a divorce. It’s okay to answer them. Just make sure not to cover anything that could pin them against the other parent or make them feel guilty.
Tip #3: Don’t Go Back and Forth
A divorce is an incredibly serious matter. But some couples use it as a threat or file a divorce only to take it back later. That kind of back-and-forth decision-making can cause enormous emotional distress for children.
So, only tell your children you’re getting a divorce if you’re absolutely sure you’re going to go through with it. If you tell them you’re splitting up and you immediately get back together again, it can cause a lot of confusion. Plus, in time, your child may develop trust issues.
Tip #4: Be Calm and Consistent
You might be going through an emotional roller coaster right now. The process of going through a divorce is a difficult one, even if it’s the right choice. It’s okay to show some of this emotion in front of your children. It makes sense that you are going to have emotional reactions to certain situations--you are only human! However, always remember your kids are watching your actions and how you react. You can be an example of how to handle the situation. By taking the separation in stride, it will be easier for your children to do the same.
As much as possible, try to stay calm in front of your kids, and find an outlet for your emotions—either on your own, in a support group, with trusted friends, or with a therapist. It is crucial to have someone to talk to during such a significant life transition.
Ultimately, it’s important to let your children know that things are going to remain as normal as possible. Everyone’s lives may change a little, but you will still be there for them.
Sarah WIlson, PhD, LMFT Associate, works with couples at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin who are going through divorce or separation. If you’re not sure how to tell your children you are getting divorced, please don’t hesitate to contact us. It’s important to have someone to talk to during a such a significant transition. To schedule with Sarah, give her a call at (512) 270-4883, ext. 104, or request a session online through the RCC Austin Scheduling page. Let us help you through those first steps and into the next chapter of your life.