As if divorce itself isn’t challenging enough, it is likely even more challenging for your kids. Your kids didn’t choose this. You may not have either but they have even less control over the situation than you and your soon-to-be ex spouse. The decision to divorce is difficult but likely even more difficult is telling your children and helping them through the process gracefully. I know this because I see couples every day go through this and because I have been through it too. Here are some tips to help you to help your kids make the transition with success…
1. Talk with your spouse about when to tell the kids. Ideally, if both of you can sit them down together and have a family conversation, everyone will benefit more from this. If, however, that is not possible (for whatever the reason), the following tips still apply.
2. Be honest and developmentally appropriate with what you share. If you are telling toddlers, the conversation will be different than if you are talking with your teenagers. Give enough information to your kids so they understand what is happening without blaming anyone, especially them! Make it crystal clear to them it is not their fault.
3. Be specific about how the divorce will affect their lives. For example, if you will have to sell your home, let them know that while you will be moving, they will not have to change schools and can still have the same friends and activities.
4. Make sure you are respectful to their feelings. Answer any questions they may have, again remembering their ages and what they really need to know. They do not need to know, no matter what age, to know the details of your divorce. If you or your spouse betrayed the other, it is not in your children’s best interest to know this. Instead, tell your kids that you and your spouse have done all you can to try to make it work but you have both decided to part ways because it is going to decrease the stress in the family. (As an aside, if please make sure you have done all you can to try and make it work before you decide to divorce. If you have not, explore whether or not you and your partner would be willing to do so, even for the sake of the kids.)
5. As the divorce unfolds, check in with your kids and ask how they are feeling about it. Listen to them. Really listen to them. Watch their behavior and grades. If you see any significant changes, consider taking them to a therapist.
Remember divorce is hard for everyone. Do all you can to make the transition as smooth and easy as possible. The less that has to change in your kids’ lives, the easier it will be for them to adjust. Remember, kids (and adults) are resilient. We all do adjust with time and the right amount of compassion during that time.