When a divorce occurs in a family it is a very difficult time. Not surprisingly, kids often have the hardest time understanding what is going on when a divorce happens. After all, a breakup situation is often tough enough for adults to grasp, imagine how confusing it can get for kids?
If you are going through a divorce, how you approach the subject with your children is crucial. Experts say statistics indicate most kids will never forget the day their parents told them they were getting divorced. 1
To help ease kids' concerns and help them cope, it makes the transition easier if you give them an explanation of what is going on and why. However, before you broach the topic of divorce, it is also important to consider what you plan to say. How the information about a divorce is shared with kids should always be proactive, not reactive. This discussion should never be done hastily or in a spontaneous way. And most especially, leave any anger out.
Share Only Information the Kids Need
While it is essential to tell your children about the divorce so they better understand the situation, have time to grieve and learn how to adjust, it is also vital you are very careful with the level of detail you decide to share with them. In a parental breakup scenario kids do not need to know all the intimate details of why the marriage didn't work out, it is sufficient enough to share only the basics.
Sharing honesty with your children is and should be a priority, but there is also a point of being too candid. They'll probably have lots of questions, and these need to be answered in some shape or form, but the dirty details do not need to be shared. (An exception might be if they've witnessed something first-hand that they are having trouble coping with or has left them disturbed; if this is the case, depending on the situation, it might be a good idea to involve a professional).
Explain to the Kids They are Not to Blame
Kids are often confused by the concept of divorce and it is easy for them to assume they've done something wrong to cause the split of their parents. When explaining the divorce to your children it is important to be gentle and to reinforce the divorce is not due to anything they did; this is a primary point that is critical to get across.
Kids often tend to feel burdened with self-blame and put themselves under the misconception that they committed a wrong to cause the divorce. Some kids also may believe if they behave better their parents will not separate. It is important to stress that anything they've done or could do can't change things because they are not to blame.
Children often worry they are going to be abandoned after a divorce occurs. It is important to assure them they will not be deserted or left alone even though mom and dad are getting divorced and will no longer live together. If possible, parents should present a united front to tell the kids about the divorce and reassure them they are loved.
If the kids have already been exposed to a lot of arguments and other disputes, it is OK to explain there will be less fighting if mom and dad don't live together anymore. Explain that mom and dad can get along better if they don't live in the same house. While there is bound to be disappointment about two homes, kids usually find the idea of their parents getting along better pretty appealing.
When having the divorce discussion children need to know that even though their parents are getting divorced this has no effect on love for them. This cannot be emphasized enough because this is the most important message to get across.
Leave Out the Hostility
Even when two estranged spouses are feeling hostility towards one another it is well worth the effort invested to make attempts to come together as a united front for the children. This is to reassure the children that both mom and dad love them both very much and will be there for them.
One big mistake many parents make is to inadvertently expose their children to any hostility or anger that exists between the parents. Kids do not need to know about this aspect of divorce and is one of the details best kept under wraps. They don't need to hear fights, blame or any other animosity estranged spouses often have towards one another.
Parents should make a concentrated effort to keep these feelings stifled while the kids are in close proximity. (For instance, it can be easy to forget when emotional and talking on the phone to someone else that the kids may be in earshot).
If any animosity is shared with the kids, it could result in some resentment emerging towards one or both parents. Even if one parent has acted horribly or has issues, it is often in the kids' best interest to shield them from this aspect of divorce. For instance, you may not hold amorous feelings towards your soon to be ex, but it isn't fair the kids bear the burden of being exposed to these hostile feelings.
Inform the Kids of Any Upcoming Changes
It is to the kids' benefit to discuss living arrangements and any potential change in home, school or other alteration in their usual routine. This is one of the critical details that must be shared in order to prepare them for these adjustments. For instance, if the children are going to be moving from their familiar home or school this can be traumatic for them. The more prepared they are, the easier this shift in their lives will be. This is not an area you want to surprise your kids. Holidays included.
When telling children about an upcoming divorce the key is to carefully balance out what information is told to the children. If they are given too much detail it can hurt them emotionally and/or may affect their ability to accept the situation. It can also skewer their perspective towards one or both parents. Often less information is more effective in helping kids transition to new, but difficult, circumstances.
Children need to know their parents will be available to listen to concerns and answer questions they may have about the divorce. If you give careful consideration as to what you tell your kids the transition and readjustment period will go much more smoothly.