Many parents are apprehensive about telling their children that they are getting a divorce for fear that they will somehow “do it wrong.” Family therapists suggest that following a few simple guidelines will help children absorb the news about their parents’ split more easily.
Experts agree that it is best to tell children about impending divorce as a couple. This gives children an opportunity to ask both parents any questions that they might have, both initially and after they have had time to absorb the news.
However, therapists also advise that parents wait to talk to children until they have some idea of what changes will occur after the separation. Changes to contemplate include: living arrangements, how much parenting time each spouse will be responsible for, and any changes to routine. It is best to anticipate questions that children will have about changes and to have answers ready. Children will most likely look for reassurance that they will not have to leave school, friends, pets and other important elements of their lives.
Family therapists advise parents to agree on what they are going to say before discussing divorce with their children, in order to avoid presenting them with conflicting information. Parents should keep explanations simple and age-appropriate. It is important to avoid going into long descriptions of adult problems and issues affecting the marriage. It is better for parents to avoid saying they no longer love one another, as the children might take this to mean that it is possible that the parents may possibly stop loving them some day, as well.
Children respond to news that parents are divorcing in a variety of ways and parents should be prepared for reactions to range from tears and running out of the room to a child pretending that the news does not affect him or her. Family therapists advise parents to accept initial reactions and reassure their children that they are available to answer questions whenever they arise.