Divorce can shake children’s sense of security and even their parental relationships. Telling the children about the divorce is the first opportunity parents have to lay a secure foundation for the future.
- Provide the children with calming information.
- Set a positive tone for how family relationships will evolve.
- Begin the process of emotional communication with your children.
Have a Family Meeting
Together as parents, gather the children together. This initial telling should only be the first conversation of many about the divorce.
- A comfortable, secure place or at home, where children can spend time alone in their rooms if needed
- After your decision to separate is final
- In enough time before separation to allow them to prepare
- 2-3 weeks for younger children and 1-2 months for adolescents and older
- When there is no risk of interruption
- When the children have time and energy
- When parents can focus full emotional attention on the children
- When both parents can remain available for several days afterward
- Not on special occasions or holidays
Inform and Reassure
Children worry about what will happen to them and even fear losing their parents. Without an explanation and reassurance from their parents, the children’s world is turned upside-down without warning, explanation, or preparation.
- Provide an age appropriate explanation.
- Do not blame one spouse. Blame generates feelings of disloyalty which is ultimately harmful to both parental relationships.
- Take full responsibility and assure the children that this is a grownup decision that they did not cause and cannot change.
Reassure their Parental Relationships
Assure them that your love for them will not change and never stops. Show that your paramount concern is still to take good care of them. Physical contact reinforces this loving message.
Let them know that:
- Whatever changes take place between Mom and Dad, the one thing that will not change is your love for them.
- You will both always be their parents and will continue to take good care of them.
- Both of you love them very much, and the kind of love you have for them will never end.
Discuss the Plan Together
- In developing a parenting plan, consider your children’s needs, schedules, and input. This helps them to feel heard, more in control, and more trusting that you will continue to work together as their parents.
- Having a parenting plan helps prepare children for changes to come, like living arrangements, time with parents, and school activities.
Listen and Respond
Children may respond with fears, tears, anger, or by saying little or nothing at all. Help them share their painful emotions.
- Each conversation is an opportunity to listen, clarify, and express unending love for them.
- Hearing your words and feeling them backed up, over and over again, is a great source of comfort and confidence for your children.
- Parents can respond to their children’s fears in ways that both protect and prepare their children for the changes to come.
Source: Putting Children First: Proven Parenting Strategies for Helping Children Thrive Through Divorce, by JoAnne Pedro-Carroll, Ph.D. (2010).