Deciding to go forward with a divorce is, or should be, one of the hardest decisions you ever have to deal with in life. As hard as it may be for the two people actually getting divorced, for kids of divorce, it can be a huge traumatic issue. However, if you and your (soon to be) ex tread carefully, you can actually help your children move through the divorce to come out the other side just fine.
The hardest part is telling them that you have made the decision. Here is a step by step guide to telling your kids you are going to divorce. Please keep in mind that each step may appear slightly different depending on the age and maturity of your children.
Step 1. Tell Them Together
This does not mean telling your two children at the same time. You should come together as a currently married couple and talk to your children at the same time. Set aside some time to tell them in a way that is appropriate and be prepared to answer some questions and deal with their reactions.
Step 2. Avoid Blame or Pointing Fingers
Even in the worst divorces, no one individual is 100% responsible for everything that has led to divorce. This is not the time to place blame. If only for your children, avoid bad-mouthing each other. You loved each other at some point, remember that you chose to marry this person. Also keep in mind that the other is still your child’s parent (or step-parent).
Step 3. Have an Idea of the Plan for the Kids After the Divorce
What will custody look like? While it is not necessary to have every detail, having a general idea of when the kids will see each of their parents and what their day to day life will look like will help you to be prepared to answer many of their questions.
Step 4. Practice What You Will Say
Sit down with your spouse and try to anticipate what you will say, think about the types of questions that your children may ask. Depending on the age of your kids, and how long there have been issues in your marriage (and how you handled them) your kids may not be surprised with the news of the divorce. In other cases, they may be completely shocked, scared, and confused.
Step 5. Let Them Know it is Not Their Fault
Kids, especially younger children, tend to internalize divorce. They often think that they have done (or not done) something that has caused the divorce. Reassure them that NOTHING they did or did not do has led to the divorce.
Even in cases where stresses relating to the raising children may have added to complications in the marriage, there are plenty of other issues that usually lead to the ultimate decision to divorce. Never place the blame on them, and continuously reassure them that it is not their fault.
Step 6. Give it Time
It will take time for the reality of divorce to sink in for your kids. There will likely be many questions that they are not able to think of at the moment. You may be asked questions a day, a week, or more, after the initial conversation. Remember to stay on the same page and present the same information. Do not be afraid to admit you are scared or that you do not know all of the answers. Saying “I don’t know” is better than making false statements.
Step 7. Get Help
If you or your children are having a hard time accepting that there is a divorce coming, consider reaching out for some help. Marriage and Family Therapists are trained to deal with a wide range of issues related to everything family, including divorce. You do not have to go through it alone. Divorce Counseling can help the two of you do this well and not have a nasty divorce and Co-parenting Counseling can help you learn to do what’s right for the children.
The unfortunate reality these days is that there are more divorces than there are marriages every year. Taking the time and energy to make sure that in every way possible your kids are put first will help all of you move through the next stage in your life with the least amount of issues.
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