Divorce is an unfortunate reality in family life that can be devastating to all involved, especially children. In some cases, divorce may be the best long-term decision a couple can make but telling your kids about a divorce can be very difficult and even heartbreaking.
During a divorce, children may wonder if they are at fault or if their parents still love them. They may also wonder if both parents will still be in their life. It is important for parents to handle breaking the news of a divorce to their children delicately to keep a positive relationship with them and reassure them that they are still loved by both parents.
Consider Your Child’s Age and Understanding
Divorces are complex situations that can be difficult for children of certain ages to understand. Young children especially will not see the divorce for the multi-faceted situation that it is and may instead view it from a more self-centered point of view. Parents must consider the age and development level of their children so they can help their children better understand the situation.
- Children aged 5 and under: Children that are 5 years old and younger may have a hard time understanding the causes of a divorce and the effects it will have. They may think that their parent left them because they can’t understand that the decision was made between the two adults. When telling a child of this age, use simple, concrete explanations. Tell your child in matter-of-fact terms which parent is moving out, where the child will live, and how they will see the parent who has left. You should also provide consistent care for your child to create a sense of stability.
- Children aged 6 to 11: Children on the younger side of this age group may still have a difficult time understanding the circumstances of the divorce while children in the older part of this age group may still see the situation as black and white and blame one of the parents for the split. Children in this age group may also wonder if they had something to do with the divorce or if their parents can ever get back together. You need to help children this age understand that the decisions were adult decisions that were not their fault and that they can’t change anything. Make sure to provide stability in the wake of a divorce and allow your children to talk about their feelings on the situation. You must also understand that they may not want to talk about their feelings.
- Children aged 12 to 14: Children this age are more likely to understand the complex situation of a divorce, but they may still develop related emotional issues. It can be difficult to tell how a preteen or teenager is feeling and they may act like they don’t want to be reached. However, they do still want a connection with their parents. The best thing to do is keep open communication with your kids of this age so that any emotional issues won’t go unnoticed.
How to Tell Your Children About Your Divorce
No matter what age your children are, breaking the news of a divorce to them is not easy. It is important that their children hear the news from you first, and that you tell them in a delicate way. The following are what you should consider when talking to your children about your divorce.
Plan Your Explanation
It may be best for you to work with your spouse to plan what you will say and even have them present for the explanation. Make sure you keep your anger and emotions out of the explanation as much as you can and approach them when you have a level head. It is also best to tell them on a weekend when they have time to process the news and spend time with family. Do not tell them before school, before bedtime, or on a special day like a birthday or holiday.
Tell All of Your Children at Once
Your children should hear the news directly from you and all at the same time. Do not tell one child so that the others hear it first from a sibling. Start by sharing the basic information with your children at the same time, and if your children are different ages, you can follow up with each one of them separately while considering the information discussed in the section above.
Leave Fault and Blame Out
When you explain the situation to your children, you must avoid assigning blame or fault for the divorce. Even if one parent is at fault, assigning blame is not healthy for your children as it will make them feel like they are caught in the middle and must choose a side. It is much more important to support and reassure your children instead of telling them the truth about who is to blame. It is most beneficial for your children to continue to have a strong, healthy relationship with both parents. Therefore, you should use phrases like, “We aren’t happy together,” or “We just can’t work it out” when explaining why the divorce is happening.
In most situations, it is inappropriate to tell your children the specific reasons why the divorce is happening. However, you must be ready to answer these questions as your children will want to know, especially older children. Remember to use “We” statements like those mentioned above to explain why the divorce is happening in general terms and without assigning blame. Your children are likely not old or mature enough to fully understand the problems that led to the divorce.
Inform Your Children of the Changes
The questions your children are likely to have will concern how the situation will change their lives. Make sure you are honest in telling your children which parent is moving out, where your children will live, which parent they will live with, and when they will see the parent who moved out. If you have already determined the visitation schedule with your spouse, share it with your children. It is most important for them to know the changes that are about to take place so they can be prepared for them.
You can also reassure your children by telling them what will remain the same such as their friends, school, and extracurricular activities. Make sure they understand that both parents will still be in their lives and that both parents still love them as much as they did before the divorce.
Reassure Your Children
Depending on the ages of your children, some may need reassurance to understand that they are not at fault for the divorce. Make sure they understand that they had nothing to do with the decision and that their actions could not have caused or prevented the divorce. Only reassure them with what is true at the time, such as that they will still have the same school and the same friends and that they will eventually get used to the new situation. Do not make assurances that are not true or promises you may not be able to keep.
Your Children’s Reactions are Normal
Your children may react differently to the news and may have a reaction that you don’t expect. It is normal for children to cry and show sadness, show anger, or show no visible reaction at all. Expressing these types of emotions is difficult for children as some may let them out and some may shut down and process the information before expressing anything. All of these reactions are normal. When you break the news, make sure you are in enough control of your emotions that you will be able to reassure them and help them heal.
Let Your Children Ask Questions
It is normal for children to have questions for their parents after being informed of their divorce. Some kids may ask questions immediately and some may ask days or even weeks later after processing the news. Do not pressure your children to ask questions, instead let them know that you will answer questions if and when they have them. If they ask a question that you don’t have an answer for, tell them that you will give them an answer once you figure it out yourself.
Allow Time to Adjust
Remember that it will take some time for your children to adjust to the changes brought on by the divorce. Be patient and try not to get frustrated if you think your children aren’t adjusting fast enough. Instead, continue to be emotionally available and reassuring and they will eventually heal, recover, and adjust.
Work with a Divorce Attorney
When a couple goes through a divorce, it is important for them to break the news to their children early and ensure them that it is not their fault and that they are still loved by both parents to help limit their emotional stress. Divorce is a stressful situation for everyone involved and the divorce attorneys of Allen Gabe Law, P.C. can handle divorce cases with sensitivity and confidence.
Our attorneys are dedicated to assuring a quick divorce process and protecting the children involved, especially in cases concerning abuse and custody battles. Contact Allen Gabe Law, P.C. at (847) 241-5000 ext. 121 for legal advice concerning divorce.