Supporting Kids Through Divorce: Informing the Kids (Part 2)

People get a divorce for a multitude of reasons–it’s a difficult decision that many people make, and unfortunately–there is a lot of judgment from others that comes with it–especially if children are involved.  

By: Julie Burke, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Susan Gonzales, LPC-S

There isn’t a script about how to tell your kids or what exactly needs to be said, however, there are things that need to be taken into consideration when telling them.  Be mindful of what is age-appropriate, too.  10 Books for Kids Experiencing Divorce is a great resource for different age-appropriate books to help have the conversation and normalize what is going on.  

Tell Your Kids Together

  • No matter your differences, this is of utmost importance.  Despite the fact that things did not work out in the marriage, the fact of the matter is–you are both parents and will need to learn how to co-parent effectively for the sake of your children.  Being together and sharing the news with your children together will show them your ability to be teammates through this process.  It’s important to maintain a unified parental front.   
  • Additionally, kids may feel guilty and as if the divorce is their fault.  They will likely believe this to be true unless you tell them otherwise.  It’s important to show (and remind) them verbally and through your interactions that you love them very much and that this is not their fault.  

Take the Shame, Blame, and Criticism Out of the Decision to Split

  • There is NO need (ever) to place blame on one of the parents.  Refrain from name-calling and personal attacks both when telling your child about the divorce and in situations where the child may hear you.  This ultimately ends up confusing the child in an already confusing time and creates alliances where alliances should not exist.  

Let Your Kids Know What the Decision to Split Up Will Look Like for Everyone

  • Keep in mind what this divorce will mean for your family.  While a divorce generally means the splitting up of spouses, the details behind the split vary from household to household.  These things can include: who will be leaving the home, where the kids will stay (and when), what will change and how that will look like, what the parent’s relationships will look like, etc.  

Rehearse What You’ll Say Before You Say It

  • This conversation will likely be awkward and uncomfortable and highly emotional…and that’s okay.  You don’t have to be stone cold and emotionless when informing your children.  In fact, being emotional and showing your children that it’s okay to show emotion (and showing them how to appropriately and effectively cope is the exact kind of modeling they need).  Rehearsing what you will say will also make the likelihood of shaming & blaming decrease because you will have practiced the verbiage of what you will say.  

Remind Them at the End Where You Started

  • The biggest take-away from this is ensuring your children know that the decision to get divorced has absolutely nothing to do with anything they’ve done (or failed to do).  They need to know they are not at fault in any way.  They also need to know that they are loved and will continued to be loved…forever.    

Give Your Children Time to Adjust

  • Be attuned to your child’s emotions.  You should listen carefully to them, acknowledge and accept their feelings, and respond appropriately to them.  Give children the opportunity to process these big emotions and changes by bringing them to therapy.  They often need to communicate to you that they’re scared or unsure of what will happen, but do not have the language or awareness to do so.  They may communicate by acting out and/or showing regression in behavior.
  • When children ask questions (and it is likely they will)–be mindful of your answers.  For example, if a child asks “Why are you getting divorced?” you need to know how to answer that question without putting blame on the other parent.  Give your children the opportunity to ask questions, however, know that they don’t need to know every single detail about the decision itself.  

No matter what, it’s important to do what is in the best interest of your child.  The above tips all do that.  If you and your spouse feel like you are unable to communicate the decision to get divorced to your children effectively and appropriately, seek the help of a trained professional.  There are therapists who do discernment counseling specifically for couples who are ambivalent about getting divorced.  It may be uncomfortable and there will likely be big emotions related to these decisions, but at the end of the day, you have to do what, in your heart of hearts, is best for you…even if that means getting divorced.