Talking to Kids about Divorce: Part I

The decision to get a divorce is rarely an easy one, but it’s compounded by the difficulty of how to protect your kids during the divorce. Breaking the news to your kids is a daunting task, and it’s challenging to find the right way to do it that maintains sensitivity and still shows your children that you love them and will continue to love them regardless of what happens with the relationship.

Talk to kids sooner rather than later.

The prospect isn’t appealing, but it’s a good idea to talk to kids about divorce sooner rather than later. They’ll take time to adjust to the news, and it’s easier to adjust with both parents around and available to answer any questions and reassure them that they’ll still be loved and cherished. Further, it helps to tackle the process as a couple; an option you don’t have if you wait until the divorce is finalized or one of you moves out.

Be kind and friendly toward your spouse.

You should present divorce to kids as a mutual decision, even if it isn’t. You may feel hurt or mistreated, but your kids shouldn’t have to know that, and shouldn’t feel compelled to side with one parent over the other. Be kind and friendly toward your spouse during the entire divorce. Don’t abuse your spouse to your kids, and don’t abuse your spouse in front of your kids; keep heated discussions behind closed doors or out of the house entirely to avoid further traumatizing the kids.

Consult books with helpful language targeted to your children’s ages and understanding.

Kids understand and feel different things about divorce at different stages in their development. It may help to consult books with helpful language targeted to your children’s ages and development levels. For very young kids, for example, the book “It’s Not Your Fault Koko Bear” could be a helpful tool. You’ll also find plenty of other books if you browse your local bookstore, so consider utilizing these helpful tools to open a dialogue with your kids.

Provide a consistent routine to help reassure kids.

One of the best things you can do to help your kids weather a divorce is to provide a consistent routine for them. Children worry about their schedule; who will pick them up from school, who will take them to activities and with whom they’ll spend time in a shared custody arrangement.

Provide your kids with a consistent routine; don’t switch off with your spouse frequently, and make sure your kids always know where they’re going to be and who is responsible for picking them up. By providing a consistent routine, you’re communicating to your kids that they can count on some level of stability, and it helps them feel less threatened and insecure.

Continued in Part II

In part two, we’ll take a look at specific language you can use to talk to your kids, and messages you need to convey to ensure your kids understand the prospect of divorce and how it will affect them. Keep an eye out for Part II!