Telling your children that you are getting divorced is a daunting task, which needs to be planned carefully. Divorce can be stressful, sad and confusingly for children and as parents your job is to make the process as painless as possible.
Tell them the truth and what to expect
Prepare for this discussion. It is important to have a clear and mutually agreed upon approach.
It is also important to be consistent. Setting boundaries early on will send clear messages about your divorce and its subsequent transitions. This also avoids confusing the children when they hear conflicting messages from their parents.
Keep it simple and tell the truth. Tell your children you are getting a divorce and explain what that means. Do not confuse things by talking around the subject.
Make the conversation age appropriate. Younger children do not need to know all the adult details while older children may want further explanation.
Tell your children what to expect and address the changes. Be specific about what they are to expect in the future, such as schooling and living arrangements. Give them definite information and without making promises that can’t be kept. Having clear expectations that are then put in motion will help to relieve their anxiety.
Listen and reassure
Consider the situation from your children’s perspective. Listen and allow them to express themselves. Be patient as it may take them some time for them to come to terms with the divorce.
Following a divorce many children worry that the divorce was their fault or that their parents will stop loving them or leave them. It is important to reiterate to your children that the divorce is not their fault. This is especially so with younger children who tend to believe that their thoughts or actions are responsible for external events.
When you tell your children of the divorce it can be reassuring to say something like: “The love between mum and dad is different that between mum and dad and you. The love that mum and dad have for each other can change but the love we each have for you cannot”.
Remind your children that while the physical circumstances of the family unit may change both parents will continue to be there to love and support them.
It is a good idea to minimise other additional changes and challenges during the initial period following your separation.
Providing stability and structure can give your children a sense of calm and security.
Maintain an amicable relationship
Conflict between parents can be damaging to children whether parents are together or separated.
It is important when telling your children of your divorce and afterwards to maintain a united front and not to place any blame. Avoid putting your children in the middle and making them feel like they have to choose.
It is also important to encourage your children to have a good relationship with the other parent. If you take a hostile stance about your former spouse or partner your children are likely to pick up on this, which can create internal conflict as they may feel disloyal for having a different view.
While it may be difficult to maintain relationships during this time you need to remind yourself that your children may be experiencing enormous disappointment, confusion, anger, anxiety and guilt, and their interests should be your primary concern.
By focusing on maintaining an amicable relationship you will teach your children an important lesson about love and commitment.
Know when to seek help
A normal child reaction to divorce can include anger, anxiety or sadness. If your child is experiencing these emotions help them through it by allowing them to express their feelings and providing reassurance.
Red flag behaviour includes sleep problems, poor concentration or trouble at school, withdrawal, frequent angry or violent outbursts, or self-injury. If your child is exhibiting these behaviours then seek help. Arranging for your child to talk to a counsellor may help them process and deal with how they are feeling.