Remember where you were on 9/11? I do – right down to the parking garage elevator where I first heard the news. What you saw and heard that day probably rocked your world.
For kids, finding out that Mom and Dad are getting divorced is a lot like that. Most children will never forget the day they were told that Mom and Dad are breaking up. So, you want to do it right. Consider these tips:
- Talk to the children as a united front. No matter who initiated the breakup or what got you here, you need to deliver the news as a team. “We will both always love you.”
- Tell all the kids at the same time. Don’t tell the oldest first. That burdens her with a painful secret. And the youngest will be embarrassed that he wasn’t smart enough or old enough to handle it.
- Pick a relaxed moment when there’s plenty of time.
- Plan what you’ll say. This is not a good time to ad lib. Stay Focus on your love for the child. You might take turns covering these important points:
- Housing changes. Who’s moving? Where? When? Will she have her own bedroom? How about a toothbrush? Let her pick some things to keep at the “other” home.
- The schedule. Kids want to know who will take care of them each day. Sometimes a calendar with colors or stickers for “Mommy Days” and “Daddy Days” can help kids process the schedule.
- Pets. Who will feed the goldfish when I’m at the other house? Can Fido go with me when I visit Mom?
- Reassure them about anything that is staying the same.
- For things that will be different, acknowledge the change and tell them you are all going to make them work.
- Tell them: “It’s not your fault.” “You didn’t cause it.” “There’s nothing you can do to change it.” because children tend to blame themselves when their parents’ divorce.
- Don’t blame one parent for the breakup. – Even if it’s (mostly) true, that won’t help your children.
- Don’t let or ask the kids to choose sides. They need to feel emotionally safe to continue loving both of you. After all, your child is 50% you and 50% the other parent.
- Don’t expect one conversation to do the job; plan on several short talks. Always reminding the children that “We both love you and will do what is best for you.”
- Be open to outside help for your children if they are struggling with the news. Play therapy for younger children and talk therapy for older one can help them to process the changes in a safe space