How to Talk to Your Kids About Divorce
One of the most difficult things about getting a divorce is deciding how to go about telling your children that the marriage is over between mom and dad. As a divorce attorney, I have seen families struggle with this process and there is no use in trying to avoid it. The discussion WILL happen. Below are some helpful tips for how to tell your kids about your divorce.
Before The Discussion
1. Develop a common message: Get together with your soon-to-be ex-spouse to develop a common message. Although the marital relationship between you and your spouse is coming to an end, remember that both of you will be co-parents after the divorce. There will be football practice, piano recitals, birthdays and even marriages to attend one day. Too often I see parents use the divorce announcement as an opportunity to talk to their children alone in order to disparage the other spouse or to shift blame. This plan often backfires, will likely traumatize your children and will make the co-parenting relationship harder in the future. For the sake of your children, make the divorce announcement together and have a common message.
2. Consult a child specialist: Once you have developed your common message, it may be a good idea to consult with a child specialist or family therapist who can examine and critique the language you are planning to use. The way a message is packaged, the tone used and the words selected will have an important impact on how that message will be received. Child specialists and family counselors are experts in communication and can help you and your spouse develop a message that is the least painful for your children.
3. Pick an appropriate time and place: Both you and your spouse need to take into consideration important events in your children’s lives and how your divorce announcement will impact those events. Do not have the divorce discussion the day before your child’s final exam, championship football game or on your child’s birthday.
During The Discussion
4. Be honest but keep it positive: Be honest with your children about why you are getting a divorce, but keep it simple and age appropriate. Spare the details. Don’t hide the fact that life after divorce is going to be different, but be prepared to explain how it will be different. Emphasize that the divorce will not change your love for your children and how each parent will continue to be involved in there lives.
5. Keep calm: The manner in which you present the news about your divorce to your kids will, in large part, effect the degree of their anxiety and whether they anticipate a positive outcome for themselves. If they see that you are anxious, they will be anxious. If they see you getting angry, they will get angry. If they see you cry, they will cry. If you need to remove yourself from conversation for a few minutes to collect yourself, then do it. You need to be the calming force during the divorce discussion. You should be comforting your children, not the other way around.
6. Avoid blame: Avoid the tendency to assign blame or to say whose fault it is. It is important that your children understand that your divorce is a joint decision. Use the word “we” as much as possible. Attempts to disparage the other spouse may back-fire, resulting in your children siding with the maligned spouse.
7. Acknowledge your children’s feelings: For kids, divorce can feel like the loss of the parent. It is important that you encourage your children to express their feelings and really listen. While you may not be able to change those feelings, acknowledging them rather than dismissing them goes a long way to your children feeling more comfortable with the decision.
After The Discussion
8. Expect Questions: After the discussion, your children will continue to have questions. You and your spouse need to be prepared to answer those questions in a unified manner. Answer them honestly and be mindful of tips #6 and #7.
9. Slow the transition: If its possible, the spouse that will likely not to live in the same home as the children should stay the night. Give your children time to settle in their new reality.
10. Its not their fault: Always remember that your children are going through this divorce too. Make it is clear as possible that the divorce is not their fault and then do it again. Don’t assume they know.
For more information about divorce and talking to your kids about divorce, contact Birmingham divorce attorney Patrick K. Yeatts and The Yeatts Law Firm today.