How to Talk to Children About Divorce (or Separating)

Parents who’ve decided to divorce often struggle to find the right way to break the news to their children. A child’s world almost exclusively consists of parents, siblings, the family pet and possibly extended family. Yet the nucleus is really the parents. This is why parental divorce has the potential to shape children for the years that follow. The manner in which you discuss the divorce with your kids goes a long way in determining how they’ll bounce back from the bad news.

Those with kids age 6 and younger have quite an uphill battle. It is extremely challenging to explain parental divorce to children this young. Most young kids don’t take the news very well and some might even blame themselves. It is imperative that you explain that you and your spouse are the crux of the problem and that your child and his or her siblings aren’t the cause of the divorce. Explain to your children that you still love their mother or father but you need some time apart. If there’s any chance of repairing the marriage, don’t tell your children that the split is permanent. Tell them that you need some “alone time” to determine if you’ve grown apart from their mom or dad. If you’ve fully committed to the divorce and there’s no chance of repairing the relationship, you don’t have to use the word “divorce” with your young child. You can say that mom and dad are going to live apart from one another but you’ll still see the child on a regular basis. Above all, communicate that your love for your child hasn’t waned nor will it in the future.

If your child is between 6 and 8 years old, he or she will have a better idea of what divorce entails. Most children of this age have been exposed to divorce either through the media or their friends at school. While you can be a little more straightforward with children in this age range, you don’t have to tell them all of the details about why you’re splitting from their mom or dad. Tell them as much of the truth as you can. Explain that adults who’ve been together for a long time often grow apart but a parent’s love for a child is everlasting. If you have a court approved matrimonial settlement agreement in place that outlines your visitation rights, write down when you’ll visit your child so that he or she has something to look forward to.

Those with teens have a unique challenge. Teens in the middle of puberty are often overly emotional and might not react as maturely as you’d anticipate when you break the news to them. While most teens are aware of the ever-climbing divorce rate, this doesn’t mean that they’ll take the news well. Make sure to communicate to your teen that he or she is the product of a couple that was once in love. No one wants to feel as though they are the result of a lustful fling. This distinction will help provide your teen with the comfort and assurance needed to soldier onward instead of sulking in misery.

No matter what you say to your children about your decision to divorce or separate, you should remain honest. Be clear to your children that you and your spouse are the underlying problem. Try to paint as positive a picture as you can and actually follow through on it. Commit to spending as much time as you can with your kids during the divorce and in the immediate aftermath so that the transition goes as smoothly as possible.

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