First, let’s take a deep breath together (really, take a deep breath). If you are reading this article, you are likely navigating an extremely difficult time in your life. Divorce with children is not easy and I applaud you for seeking advice to help you along the way. With the right support and guidance, it is possible for your child to be ok during and following such a major family change.
Many of the parents I see in my office are seeking counseling for their child during divorce. Sometimes, parents reach a decision to divorce after seeking counseling for another reason, and then our focus shifts! Whatever the reason or path, getting children involved in counseling is a wonderful way to ensure that they have a safe, unbiased place to process what is happening.
Out of all the families that I see that are moving through the process of divorce and family change, there is one question I almost always am asked: “How do I tell them we are getting a divorce?”
Sometimes parents want to have the discussion in therapy. Some parents have even asked me to break the news (I won’t). I can’t do it for you, but I can set you up with my top 5 most helpful tips on how to have this conversation with your children.
Take some deep belly breaths and notice how you are feeling. It is ok to feel nervous or anxious, but be certain you are also feeling grounded. You want to model for your child that you are all going to be ok. Show them that you are not overwhelmed by the circumstances. Reference our blog on parenting with mindfulness for tips on how to stay present in difficult situations.
Talk to your child about divorce as a team.
This may be your first experience in positive co-parenting! Show your child that you will continue to be a team by doing this step together. Blame has no place in this conversation, send the message that you made this decision together. Communicate that while your feelings for your partner have changed, your love, bond, and attachment with your child is something that will never change. Remind them this is a decision made together by the parents and divorce is never a child’s fault.
Discuss divorce through your child’s eyes.
Tell your child what divorce means and what it will look like from their perspective. You may want to try “Mommy and Daddy will live in separate houses. Mommy will be moving in 2 weeks”. Acknowledge the pain and loss that will likely follow. “Big changes can be really hard!” This is an important step in helping your child cope in a healthy way.
Get ready to answer questions. If you don’t know say “I don’t know yet”. You may consider creating a question box. This gives your children the opportunity to dropping questions to be answered by you weekly during a special time. This is helpful because the conversation will continue.
Follow through and don’t be confusing.
Be a clear as possible with your words and actions. For example, sharing a bedroom with your soon to be ex can send a confusing message. You don’t want to be misleading or send mixed signals to your child during an already confusing time.
Use children’s books about divorce.
There are so many great resources that can help validate your child’s feelings. Books can help them begin to normalize and make sense about what is happening to them. Books such as A Kid’s Book About Divorce (you can buy here!) can help your child process their experience.
Most of all, know that you got this! You are doing great by sitting down and having the conversation. By not avoiding the painful and uncomfortable topic, you are modeling for your child that they, you, and your family will be okay. Transformation is ahead, but one thing will never change: You will always be a family, they will always be loved.