Divorce can be a difficult, painful process for you and your partner, but it can be even harder to tell your child about the decision. How can you discuss the situation without upsetting your child? What can you do to make sure they know it isn’t their fault? These, along with several other questions, are likely on your mind, so we did our best to address some common worries and provide advice for approaching the conversation with your child.
Preparing for the Discussion
Research has shown that over 75% of divorcing parents talk to their children about the upcoming shift in their lives for a total of only 10 minutes. That’s not nearly enough time for children to process the situation and ask questions about what will happen in their future! Try to gradually inform your child of the details and make sure you let your child know about the divorce at least a few weeks before the separation is to occur.
Therapist Lisa Herrick, Ph.D., suggests that parents may want to tell their children’s teachers the day before they discuss the news with their children. Ask teachers to keep the information private, but to be sensitive to your child’s feelings the following day. Informing your child’s teachers will also help them understand if your child seems “different” or upset.
Psychotherapist and author Vikki Stark says that for some children, sudden news about their parents’ divorce can actually be traumatic. She writes, “Time slows down, the world feels unreal and their bodies go into shock.” It’s crucial for parents to address the topic carefully, but without sugarcoating the reality of the situation.
Steps for Breaking the News
There is no perfect formula for telling your child the news, and it will depend on several different factors. If you and your partner are able to, plan how you’ll approach the topic together. Plan to tell your children about the upcoming changes in their own routines rather than the reasons behind the divorce to avoid further fights or upset. When you’re ready to have the conversation, be sure to complete the following steps:
How to Help Your Child Cope
Some children may be angry or sad, some may pretend everything is OK to avoid making you feel worse, or some might become more isolated. Each person will react differently, and it’s normal to experience a range of different emotions and behaviors. To help your child start to accept the news, here are some things you can do:
Divorce is hard on anyone. For more guidance through the process or any other relationship troubles, visit us at Oakville Wellness Center.