Breaking the news: How to tell children you’re getting divorced

Telling your kids you’re getting divorced is never easy. However, the way you tell them can make a difference in how they cope with the news.

 Divorce can be a disruptive and scary experience for kids.

Divorce, separation, or a breakup between two parents is excruciatingly painful, and the decision is always life-altering.

Many parents who have “been there, done that” can vouch for just how hard it is telling your kids your relationship has come to an end. It will take time for you and your children to adjust to such a significant change, and while you may be confident in the future you envision for them, they will need time to see it unfold. Be emotionally present and soothing in the interim. Here’s some advice on how to break the news as gently as possible.

Choose the right time & place

Protect your children from more hurt or anger by deciding when, how, and what you will tell them (together if possible). Plan to tell them on a day when you can spend time with them as a family, such as a weekend. Don’t do it right before school or bedtime, or on a holiday or other special day.

Don’t tell them in a public place. While an audience may make your children behave more calmly than they would otherwise, there is a good chance it will go down in their memories as the most traumatic, humiliating experience they ever had or could have again, short of being ditched at the church before the wedding.

Take your child’s age into account

A younger child may need only know that Mommy and Daddy are not happy together, and are going to live apart. An older child may want to know more about the reasons why. This is not a time for blame, gory graphic details, and discussions of fidelity, virtue, or human worth. Even if your child wants all the dirt, that is not his or her right, unless the child has already been forced to deal with too many details; in which case modify your answers, but favour discretion, forgiveness, and avoid accusations.

Expect your child to be shocked and withdraw

Some children may react to the news with shock and anger, while others may retreat to their bedroom to cry and refuse to talk about the topic. No matter how your child reacts, accept their feelings and give them a little space and time if they need it.

Be simple & direct

Be ready to provide answers about who will live where, how often they will see the non-resident parent, whether they will have to move too; whether they will lose their friends, their school. All these are fair questions. Lying to buffer the blow is inappropriate.  You are already damaging your child’s trust: do not damage it further by lying. If you don’t know the answer to a question, tell them that you’ll let them know when you figure things out.

Reassurance is the key

Reiterate that you both love your child and that it’s not their fault Children often feel as if their parents’ divorce is in some way their fault. It’s important that your child knows that they did not cause the breakup, nor could they have prevented it from happening.

Most of all, love your child and commit, in your heart and aloud, to remaining an engaged, connected, dedicated parent.