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For some parents, talking to their children about divorce can be one of the most difficult challenges to face. It can be very helpful for both parents to discuss ahead of time what information they are going to share with their children and how they are going to respond to their children’s questions.
It is best for both parents to inform the children together. Before talking to your children about divorce choose a time when both parents and the children will be home, like over a weekend. This provides the opportunity for the children to process the information in a safe environment with both parents available for questions, reassurance, and support.
Timing is very important. Children need time to adjust to the fact that their family structure is changing. The amount of notice parents provide to their children depends on the age and emotional needs of the children. Two to four weeks is a reasonable timeframe to talk to the children before any physical changes in the household are made.
Talking to children without a clear timeframe of when each parent will have separate homes increases children’s anxiety. They are then placed in an indefinite time of transition without any answers. Tailor the conversation to be age and developmentally appropriate for the children.
Agree not to discuss any legal or financial issues in front of the children. Don’t play the blame game. The marital problems that have led to the decision to divorce are husband/wife issues, not mother/father issues. Explain to the children that while you will no longer be husband and wife, you will always be their mother and father.
If there are issues that the children are already aware of (such as substance abuse, sexual orientation, or involvement in a long-term romantic relationship with another person), it is better to acknowledge the issues than to avoid them. Clearly express to the children that your love for them will never change and that the decision to divorce is strictly a grown-up issue, nothing that they contributed to or could have prevented. It is not their fault and they are not to blame.
Discuss what the schedule with the children will be. Children need answers about how they will be affected. Common questions children ask are: Will we have to move? Where will my other parent live? Who will I live with? When will I see my other parent? Will I be able to continue to go to my same school? What will happen on my birthday, the holidays? Having answers to these questions will reduce the children’s anxiety.
As parents, it is perfectly okay to let your children know that you are saddened, that you all will heal with love, and time to adjust to the changes in the family.