Going through a divorce is extremely difficult regardless of the circumstances surrounding the decision. However, breaking the news to your children will probably be one of the most challenging parts of the process. They will experience a multitude of emotions including guilt, grief, fear, and uncertainty.
You can help alleviate some of their anxiety by making yourself available to openly talk with them and answer questions. And, they will have some tough questions. Knowing what some of their concerns are in advance can help you prepare sensitive and age-appropriate responses.
Reason for Divorce
“Why?” is the number one question children ask parents who are splitting up. Keep it simple and avoid the blame game. Even if they have witnessed stormy fights or frequent absences, many kids still think they are the reason for their parents divorcing. So, perhaps the next most frequently asked question is: “Is this my fault?” Or, “If I’m better (i.e., stay out of trouble, make good grades, help around the house), will you get back together?” It’s very important for children to know and understand they are in no way responsible for the separation or divorce. If they feel surrounded by the love and support of both parents, they will be able to adjust more quickly.
Children need to know what changes they should anticipate. Questions they will ask are: “Where will I live?” “Where will Daddy (or Mommy) live?” “Are we moving?” “Will I still go to the same school?” “Will I have the same friends?” “Can I keep my dog/cat?” Having a pre-arranged co-parenting plan – even if it’s a temporary one – can help ease a lot of their concerns.
Once the initial shock of knowing their parents are going to get a divorce wears off, kids will then start to wonder what outsiders will think about the situation. They may even feel embarrassed. When they ask, “What should I tell my friends?” have a short, acceptable answer ready like, “My parents aren’t happy together anymore so they are getting a divorce.” Explain that “less is best,” and as long as they don’t make a big deal out of it, neither will their friends.
Seek Outside Help
Keep the lines of communication open by encouraging your children to discuss their feelings. Give honest responses while using discernment when talking about sensitive issues. In the process, you’ll probably find that you will have to separate from your own feelings in order to address theirs. Consider enlisting the aid of a therapist or divorce counselor who can help both you and your children work through this difficult transition with a healthier perspective.
For more information on how to make the adjustment period less stressful on children, click the following link for Essential Tips for Divorcing Parents.