Telling your kids about the divorce is one of the hardest tasks you’ll face. It’s not only difficult emotionally, but it’s possible to cause your kids some real problems if you don’t handle this aspect of your divorce correctly.
This crucial conversation will serve as your very first coparenting challenge.
Time the discussion correctly.
You don’t want to get kids worried about the divorce too early, but neither do you want to spring it on them the day you or your spouse moves out.
It’s better to wait about two weeks before the date of separation you and your spouse have chosen. This gives kids time to adjust to the idea without subjecting them to months of worry, stress, and confusion.
Bring the whole family together.
You and your spouse need to break the news of the divorce together. You need to put all the kids into one room. This may be the last conversation you, your spouse, and your kids ever have like this, but it’s vital.
Some parents make the mistake of telling the older child first, putting him or her in the position of having to keep secrets. Other parents race through the conversation, which in some cases lasts less than ten minutes.
Don’t make either of these mistakes. Devote the time this conversation deserves. Try to keep your cool with one another while you do.
Know the most common fears kids have when a divorce happens.
Kids tend to have a predictable range of fears during a divorce. About half their concerns will be logistical. “Where will I live? Where will I go to school? Where will the dog live?”
The other half will be more personal. “Is it still okay to love Daddy?” “Did I cause this problem?”
Make sure you’re ready to reassure those fears whether the children ask out loud or not. And be sure you’re paying attention to your child’s developmental milestones. A fifteen-year-old is not going to process the divorce the same way a three year-old might.
Try some good kid-friendly books.
You’ll need to pay attention to the age the book was written for, of course. But books like Dinosaurs Divorce can be very helpful to younger kids who may have trouble understanding what’s going on or articulating their feelings.
Older kids and teens might appreciate Divorce is Not the End of the World. Written by a 13 year-old and a 15-year old, the tone and advice are sure to reach your child while remaining relevant and useful.
Answer questions honestly.
Be gentle, but don’t be tempted to sugar-coat. Avoid bad mouthing the other spouse or launching into explanations about why you and your spouse are getting divorced: it doesn’t matter, and it doesn’t help.
Instead, be ready with answers to questions that directly impact the lives of your kids. Sometimes you won’t know because you’re hashing out your parenting plan or ironing out who keeps the house. In that case it’s okay to say, “We’re still working on that, and I’ll let you know as soon as I do.”
Get committed to a low-conflict divorce.
If you can pull one off, a low-conflict divorce is the healthiest for kids. It prevents scenarios where kids are used as spies, informants, and pawns. It also keeps the divorce from dragging on.
As much as you want this thing to just be over with already, so, too, do your kids. Kids recognize that they won’t get a chance to fall into their “new normal” until all the major issues of your divorce have been solved. They’re eager to feel anything normal, so try to stay reasonable and ask your lawyer to do the same.
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