One of the most difficult tasks that divorcing parents face is telling their children that they are separating. The following are some guidelines that may help:
- It’s better to wait until you have a parenting plan in place and have figured out where everyone is going to live before you tell the children that you will be separating. The idea of separation may be scary for the children and they need to be reassured among other things as to where they will be living, going to school, if they can still see their friends, and how they will spend time with each of you. By having those important decisions in place, you can let your children know that things are under control.
- Before broaching the subject of your separation with your children, plan with your spouse what you are going to tell the children. When you do speak to them, both of you should be present. If you need professional help in preparing for this talk, don’t hesitate to ask. Your therapist or your mediator can help you prepare for that conversation.
- A 3-year-old and a 16-year-old will have different reactions to the news of the separation/divorce, so you may choose to speak to each child separately. At the same time, speaking to them together would allow them to give each other support. This is a decision that only you can make as you know your children best.
- You don’t need to share details with your children about the reason for your breakup and please do not say anything that may undermine the other parent. The conversation can start with something like “Mommy and Daddy don’t get along as married people should get along, so we have decided to live separately.”
Explain to your children that sometimes parents and kids can disagree but that does not mean that parents will leave them: parents will never divorce their children and will continue to love them no matter what.
- Assure your children that your breakup is a problem between the two of you as grownups and that it has nothing to do with them. Children can have a tendency to blame themselves for the separation so they may need you to tell them several times about the fact that they are in no way responsible for the breakup.
- Reassure them that you will both continue to love them and take care of them but that now they will have two homes, one with Mommy and one with Daddy.
- Listen to them if they have questions or fears. Always answer their questions as honestly as possible but don’t give them more information than they need. Too many details may bring up unnecessary concerns for them. Encourage them to talk to you if they wish to do so. Be alert that sometimes they may be edging around the issue, afraid to ask a question directly.
- Tell your children that you understand that they are sad but that with time, things will work themselves out.
And most of all
keep playing and laughing with your kids
so that they know there is still happiness in the home.
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