Home » Talking with Children about Divorce – Part I

Jan 18, 2013

Talking with Children about Divorce – Part I

Children and Divorce

This three – part blog series on talking with children about divorce is helpful to know what to say and what not say,  what they worry about and how to reassure them, and a list of ways you can help your children survive your divorce.  Our first post talks about how to tell them about your impending divorce and what to say.

Talking to your children about divorceAmong the first questions parents must answer in a separation or divorce are how, when, and what to tell their children. Because telling children may be painful, parents could be tempted to delay this task. It is usually better for children, however, to know about the decision immediately, and before a parent moves. The way this information is presented can set the tone for a child’s response. If possible, both parents should tell each of their children about the divorce at the same time. Although individual response may vary, parents need to know that children will be anxious and worried about what this situation means. They need to think about several questions.

What do children need to know?

  • They did not cause the divorce.
  • Neither parent is rejecting them.
  • They still have a family even though their parents will no longer be married.
  • Their parents will love them forever, even though their feelings for each other have changed.
  • Their parents will continue to take care of them.

There is a reason for the divorce. Parents should agree on an explanation in advance, remembering that too many details may confuse children. Some things will stay the same and others will change. Common questions children might ask are who will they live with, when will they see the other parent and family members such as grandparents, and where will they go to school.

What don’t children need to know?

Unless the other parent is a genuine threat, children shouldn’t know anything that might negatively affect that relationship. Parents need to be truthful with their children, but should avoid discussing issues such as money or extramarital affairs with them.

What shouldn’t parents say?

Following is a list of destructive remarks that you should not make to your children. If you find yourself saying words like these, stop and think about how they might affect your children. All of these remarks raise fear and anxiety.

“If you don’t behave, I’ll send you to live with your father.”
“You’re lazy/stubborn/bad tempered, just like your mother.”
“I could get along better here by myself.”
“If you weren’t here, I could…”
“Sometimes I wish I’d been the one to skip out.”
“Your father put you up to saying that.”
“Your mom doesn’t love any of us or she wouldn’t have left us.”
“You can’t trust him.”
“She was just no good.”
“If he loved you, he would send your support checks on time.”
“If your mother is five minutes late again, you’re just not going with her.”
“If you don’t like what I buy you, ask your father to do better.”
“Who would you really rather be with, Mommy or Daddy?”
“What is your mother saying about me?”
“Now that you’re the little man/little woman of the house…”
“Someday you’ll leave me too, just like your father. Promise me that you’ll never leave.”
“You’re all I have. You’re the only person I can rely on.”
“Over my dead body!”

The next blog in this series deals with what children worry about and how you can reassure them.

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