Helping Your Child Through the Divorce
It is important to pay extra care when sharing with your children about the divorce, and guiding them through this big life change.
Talking to Your Child About Divorce
Breaking the news about the divorce to your children may be the most difficult conversation you will ever have with them. This conversation is something that children will remember for the rest of their lives, and there is no easy way around it. You may need to continue this conversation with your child beyond just the moment of breaking the news to them. Your children may need repeated reassurances and regular check-ins. Read on for tips that may help make the process less painful for you and your children.
As far as possible, speak to your children about the divorce together with the other parent, as long as there are no risks or safety concerns when doing so.
- Breaking the news to your children together avoids confusion—they will hear only one version of the story. By doing so, you can protect your children from feeling they may have caused the divorce, or that they must align with one parent and reject the other parent.
Try to break the news to all of your children at the same time. You may need to have further conversations with each child to find out how they are each coping with the news.
- You may wish to script what to say beforehand.
- You do not need to provide all the details about the breakdown of your marriage (e.g. the conflict or any extramarital affair). Tell your children that both of you have problems that cannot be solved, and these have nothing to do with them.
- In general, younger children will do better with a simpler explanation, whereas older children may need more information. Younger children may not immediately understand what divorce means. You may wish to use a children’s book that talks about divorce or use drawing it out to explain it to them.
- Be honest and do not set up false hopes, such as the possibility of you and the other parent getting back together. Misleading your children, hiding the truth, or lying to them may do more harm than good, and cause them to lose their trust in you.
Assure your children of your love.
- This is especially important for younger children who tend to assume that they are the cause of the divorce. For example, you may say: “Even though Mummy/Daddy and I won’t be living in the same house anymore, we will always love you and will continue to care for you.”
- Even though you may be filled with anger towards your spouse, do not bad-mouth the other parent in front of your children as this can be detrimental to your children’s emotional well-being.
- Be polite with the other parent so that your children are not caught in the middle and feel the need to take sides. Bad-mouthing the other parent may make your children feel torn between the two parents, resulting in an increased sense of insecurity and uncertainty.
- Do not compare your children to the other parent (e.g. “you are just like your mother”). Children hear criticisms of the other parent as criticisms of part of who they are.
- Reduce your child’s anxiety by giving them sufficient information about their new life, while assuring them with details on what will not change. For example, you may say: “Some things may change, like the amount of time you spend with Mummy and Daddy, but you will go to the same school and still see your friends.”
- Depending on the age of the children, where appropriate, parents may discuss their schedules with them. Older children have important priorities too. Children must not feel like they are inanimate objects simply shuffled between two homes.
- Remember what you say to your children, and always keep your promises. This develops trust and a sense of security between you and your children.