Parents often dread telling their children about family changes such as divorce or separation. Many parents fear how upsetting the discussion will be for their children and ultimately do not want to hurt their children. It is important, however, for parents to let children know what is coming before it happens. It is also very important that the children hear it from their parents so they can feel they are considered in the process. Here are a few of the important things to consider as you ponder how to manage this challenging situation.
Take a deep breath and remember this is just one moment in time and that how you treat each other and your children in the months and years after this discussion are much more important than the discussion itself.
Work together. Children learn this information best if both of their parents are a part of the discussion. It is an opportunity to demonstrate to them that this does not mean their family is ending.
Keep it simple. Children can only hold their attention for so long and you may not teach them what you want them to know if you make it too wordy. Simple template of 1.) We love you, 2.) Explain what is happening (divorce/separation) in age appropriate terms, 3.) Explain what it means for them (what will change, what will not change), and 4.) Let them know that while you are no longer going to be married, you are all still a family.
Do not place blame. If any information about “why” the separation is occurring, it should be balanced, age appropriate, and demonstrate a shared responsibility. Taking sides or being a rope in an emotional tug of war is not healthy for children.
Tell them you love them and that this is a decision made by the parents about their relationship. This is not because of anything they have done or not done. It is very important they know that love for children does not change even though marital love can.
Let them feel whatever they need to feel. Stick around and either give them space or spend time with them to help them as they process this new information. Try to avoid putting your feelings on them or avoid telling them
what they should feel.
You can show emotion but.. be careful not to put out so much emotion that your children begin to feel responsible to help you feel better. You are human but be careful to also remain the adult and be emotionally available to support them.
Do not make promises that may not be kept as a way to decrease their emotion. It is difficult to see children sad but it is even worse for them to hear what they want to hear and be disappointed later.
If you would like more input or planning about telling your children, how to co- parent, or discuss options for restructuring your family and creating a parenting plan, consider reaching out to a child specialist or family therapist in your area.
Casey A. Holtz, Ph.D. Licensed Psychologist and Child Specialist firstname.lastname@example.org 414-810-7647