Supporting your child during your divorce
Published by: LifeWorks,
The decision to divorce can be a deeply difficult one for you and your partner, but your child may also find it difficult. There is no easy way to break the news to a child, but you can help manage your children’s reactions with careful, mindful thinking and advance planning.
Wait until you and your partner have made a firm decision. Giving your children partial or indefinite information will confuse them and increase their anxiety.
If possible, break the news together. This is a very significant event in your child’s life, so plan, and even practice, what you’ll say ahead of time. It’s best to tell children about divorce in a face-to-face conversation. They may have very strong reactions to the news and need a lot of comfort and reassurance from both of you.
If you have more than one child, try to tell them at the same time. This shows you understand that the divorce is important to all of them and allows them to support each other. It also gives all the children an equal opportunity to ask questions and share their feelings.
Be honest. Your child has the right to understand what your divorce will mean to the family. Things are going to be different and routines will change. Children usually adjust more easily if they know what’s going to happen. Don’t give every detail, but don’t sugarcoat the issues either because that could lead to false hope for reconciliation.
Use clear language. Keep it simple (even though you know it’s not). Try to see things from your child’s point of view and choose straightforward explanations that are appropriate for the age of your child.
Keep the first discussions short. Be careful not to give children more information than they can handle. Don’t explain too many changes at once. You’ll have time to talk about the divorce in the months to come as your children learn about how it will affect their lives.
Make it clear that the divorce is between you and your partner. Children need to be reassured that their parents are divorcing each other, not them. Tell your children that you love them. Remind them that this is an adult decision and nothing they said or did caused it.
Plan for different reactions. Children respond to the news of a divorce in very different ways. Emotional outbursts or quiet withdrawal are within a range of normal reactions. If you have more than one child, talk with each one individually after your announcement.
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This article was adapted from the LifeWorks article “Helping children cope with divorce”.