Telling your children about divorce can be very difficult and intimidating for parents. There are several important points you must make very clear to help avoid unnecessary trauma for your children.
1. It is not their fault.
Children very commonly feel it is their fault when a parent or loved one divorces. No matter how naughty a child is, it is never their fault. Child can add stress but they can never cause a divorce.
2. Both parents still love them very much and that will never change.
A common fear that sets in for children is: “If mommy and daddy quit loving each other, then they can quit loving me”. Face this head on. Make sure your children know there is nothing they can do to ever end your love for them!
3. How you explain the reason for the divorce can be difficult but try very hard not to bad talk your spouse, even if they cheated on you or hurt you deeply.
Here is excerpt from my book When Grandparents Divorce of the mom explaining to her children why Grandma and Grandpa are divorcing:
“Well, sometimes people try and try to get along and nothing works. No matter what they do, they can’t seem to solve their problems,” Mom answers. “When this happens, some people choose to live in separate houses. This is called ‘divorce.’”
4. The children will need to know how the divorce affects them. So it is ideal if you know the plan before you talk to them. Letting them know they will be at mom’s one week and dad’s the next, or whatever their arrangement is going to be, will help them adjust. Anxiety can develop from waiting to find out.
5. Let your child know it is ok and normal to feel lots of emotions. Also let them know that it will not be so painful forever. With time it gets better and you will create a new normal.
Parents please note research considers divorce a trauma to children, and it takes time and support to heal from any trauma. Check in with your child to see how they are doing so they have the opportunity to talk about it.
6. Point out the positives like they will have two rooms, more toys and double the holidays to celebrate. If you know of friends of theirs whose parents are divorce also point that out to them, so they know they are not alone.
If you suspect your child is struggling with the divorce counseling can be very effective in helping them through the process. Divorce is the number one reason kids come to counseling in my private practice. Also please check out my recommended products for good children's books on divorce. Koko Bear It's Not Your Fault and Dinosaur Divorce are very good books to read with your children.