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How to Tell Your Child You Are Getting a Divorce

Divorce is not easy. In fact, going through a divorce will likely be one of the most difficult situations you will be forced to handle in your lifetime. If children are involved, the decision to divorce inherently becomes more complex as parents work to juggle their own feelings alongside their child’s emotions to ensure he or she is adapting to what may likely be a dramatic change in their family unit.

Although divorce is typically accompanied with many negative emotions, if you take appropriate steps to speak with your child about divorce, the negative emotions may be lessened. When speaking with your child about a sensitive topic such as divorce, it is particularly important to understand where your child is at developmentally, that way you can help him or her adjust to the reality of divorce.

Once you determine your child’s developmental level and are ready to speak with your child in a language he or she will understand, just remember, children are resilient and your child will overcome this troubling time.

It may be that as you read this, you are hurting, but know this is only temporary. It’s important to realize that good has come out of your marriage (your children). Let them be your center, focus, and light to make it through this time, because, after all, you will make it through this time.

Here are some steps and tips you should take when telling your child you’re going through a divorce:

1. Pick a Quiet Weekend

Once you and the other parent have decided to end your marriage, your first thought will likely be, “When do we tell our child?” You should speak with your child right away, as you don’t want your child to feel left in the dark or lied to. In addition, you don’t want your child to find out about their parents’ divorce through someone other than you or their other parent.

Thereafter, you must decide exactly when you will sit down and talk with your child about divorce. Although there is no perfect time to explain to your child that you and their other parent have decided to end your marriage, there are better times than others.

It is best to pick a quiet weekend – a weekend on which your child does not have sporting events or any extracurricular activities planned. Try and avoid talking with your child during the school week, as your conversation with them will likely be a distraction for at least the next day or two and you don’t want their academics drastically affected if you can help it. Thus, it is best to talk with your child when you know he/she has free time to divulge and understand the information they were just provided.

2. Inform Teachers/Coaches Before You Tell Your Child

It is always a good idea to speak with your child’s teachers and coaches about the divorce prior to speaking with your child. Teachers and coaches are individuals whom your child likely spends the majority of their time. By informing your child’s teachers and coaches about the upcoming divorce, you are effectively putting your child’s teachers and coaches to watch for any unusual behaviors that may be a result of the recent divorce proceeding.

3. Plan Out What You Will Say

Prior to sitting down with your child to discuss divorce, you should have an idea of what exactly you will be sharing with your child. You do not want the conversation to appear rehearsed, but you also should have the framework for how and what you are going to communicate to your child.

Although you should never lie to your child, at the same time, you want to avoid harming your child by disclosing more than he or she needs to know at that moment. You also want to avoid completely saying anything negative about the other parent. Remember, your child is made up of both parents, and a negative remark about the other parent will be taken to heart by your child. For example, it is not appropriate to begin your conversation with your child by informing him or her that Mom and Dad have agreed to divorce because Dad had an extramarital affair. Such information, at this early stage, will only add to an already height of emotions.

4. Communicate with Your Child Together

If possible, it is best to talk with your child with your spouse present. Delivering the message to your child as a united front will help reassure your child that although you may be ending the relationship, you are still united as a family and will continue to be in the future.

First, you must evaluate your relationship with your child’s other parent. You do not want to both be present when speaking with your child if you believe it will result in added tension, yelling, or anger. However, if you believe you both can come together and show your child that although your marriage is ending, and things may change, your love for him/her will not, then you are strongly encouraged to do so.

Your child will inherently worry about both parents and how you both will handle life without one another. Seeing both parents working together to ensure the family unit will remain as intact as possible will only provide your child with additional comfort.

5. Help your Child Anticipate What Will Happen Next

It is important that when you tell your child about the change that will occur in the family, you also provide your child with a roadmap and timeline in which the child is able to understand. For instance, depending on your child’s age, it is common for a child to ask the following questions: “Who will move out?”; “Who will take care of me?”; “Where will I live?”; “Who will take care of our pet?” and; “Will I have to change schools?”

Although it is nearly impossible to predict every question your child may ask, it is particularly important that before you discuss divorce with your child, you have prepared answers regarding the future. Keep in mind that although it is scary for a child to hear that change will be occurring, such that Mom or Dad will have to move out of the home, it is even scarier for a child who isn’t being informed where Mom or Dad is going.

If you don’t share your future plan with your child, your child will likely worry more, as he or she will have many overwhelming questions in which no one has provided an answer.

6. Don’t Use Your Child as a Support System

Your child is not your confidante. You must find adult friends to lean on and confide in while going through this difficult process. Having a child who is learning to adapt to this new family unit may seem like a blessing for you because you have someone who you feel understands what you are going through.

However, you need to be there for your children, not rely on your child to be there for you. An honest and calm discussion is fine when your child has expressed that he/she would like to have an honest, emotional discussion with you; however, sharing your feelings is very different than venting to your child and using he/she as support. You must find an appropriate balance.

7. Don’t Assume Your Child’s Not Listening

As soon as your child becomes aware that his/her parents are experiencing hard times, he/she will immediately begin to listen to every word you think you are saying behind closed doors or in a soft voice. Don’t discuss what is occurring in your life unless you are absolutely certain that your child cannot hear you. Your child is on high alert and you should be mindful of the same.

8. Avoid Doing Anything That Will Make Your Child Believe He/She Should Feel Differently About the Other Parent

Nearly every divorcing parent will be tempted to share negative feelings about their soon-to-be ex-spouse and justify doing so by saying, “I cannot lie to my child.” However, you must always remember that the person you are speaking negatively about is your child’s parent and they always will be – even after you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse have decided to go separate ways.

If children are fortunate enough to have two parents in their life, you should encourage their relationship with their other parent. Although you may have negative feelings resulting from your marriage, those feelings should not be brought onto your child.

9. Trust Yourself

Lastly, trust yourself. Have faith in yourself and how you’ll handle this situation. You have raised your children and you know them best. You know their temperaments and their typical emotions.

Although you have likely never discussed a topic with them as heavy as divorce, depending on the age of your child, one or two serious conversations have already taken place in your relationship. Just as you’ve always done, make sure the language in which you’re speaking to them is age appropriate and that you’re sharing information with them that they are able to grasp.