By Jessica Brady, LSW, Family Mediator
As a divorce mediator, I’m often asked by my clients, “How do we tell the kids that we are getting a divorce?” For many, this is the hardest part of the divorce process. As parents, we want to protect our kids from sadness and pain. We want to shield them from any harm. The thought of having this discussion can be unsettling but with proper planning you will be better prepared to deal with their reaction (or lack of reaction) to the news. The way that they are told about the divorce will likely be a lasting memory for them and should be well planned out.
Timing- If you are ready to have this discussion with your child, you likely have had some time to process the divorce. Remind yourself, the children haven’t, and they will need time before any major changes take place. For example, you do not want to tell the children about the divorce the day before a parent is moving out of the home. Allow two to three (2-3) weeks, before any major changes take place to have this discussion with your child.
If possible, discuss with your child before the weekend or during a summer/holiday break. It is not the type of discussion you want to have before school in the morning or right before an event (such as a soccer game, test, graduation). After hearing the news, your child may need additional time to talk about the divorce and have questions they need to be addressed.
Tell them together. Discuss as a family- If possible, you and your spouse should tell your child together, displaying that you are unified and still a parental team. Be unified during the discussion and do not place blame on each other. Children may feel obligated to “take a side” if blame is directed at one of the parents. Avoid this at all costs, as it can cause children anxiety to take a side.
If you have more than one child, avoid telling one before the other. It is better to discuss as a family than to have a child have to “keep as a secret” from their sibling. Telling one child first runs the risk of the other child receiving the traumatic news from their sibling.
Assure them the divorce is not their fault- Let them know the divorce is not their fault and the decision to divorce has nothing to do with them. You may want to be clear that the decision to divorce is final. Some children will put unrealistic pressure on themselves to do things or behave in certain ways in order to “get their parents back together.”
Discuss what will remain the same & what will change-Discuss how both parents will continue to be involved in their lives. Fear arises from unknowns. Be clear on what will remain the same in their day to day lives (example: stay in same school, live in same house) and what will change (who is moving out and where).
Tell them you love them and are still a family-Let them know how much you both love them and will continue to love them. Tell them that after the divorce, you will still be a family. Be supportive and answer their questions directly and honestly. Some parents are surprised by their child’s reaction or lack of reaction. All children are different and can react to the news differently. Reiterate how much you both love them and be supportive of any reaction to the news that they may display.
Post-discussion-Continue to check in with the children every few days and ask how they are feeling. If the child starts to show signs of distress, find a family therapist and get the school counselor involved for additional support. Therapy can be beneficial for children dealing with a divorce and can help ease the transition.
Children are very resilient. In time, most children will adjust well to a divorce. Studies have shown, that children do better when parents have a low-conflict divorce. A “nasty” divorce can have detrimental effects on children and co-parenting relationships. Divorce can be an amicable and controlled process through mediation.
At Central Mediation, clients engage in a low-conflict divorce process that focuses on what is in the best interest of the children involved. To schedule a free consultation, please call 732-704-4887.