If only there were a fool-proof formula that parents could follow and feel reassured that they are saying the right thing, the right way, and at the right time when it comes to telling the children about your separation or divorce. Unfortunately, there is not, but there are some guidelines to follow that will surely help. These include:
This Is A Marathon, Not a Sprint!
When it comes to talking to your children about divorce, it is never a quick, one shot deal. It needs to be a process, a conversation that evolves over time and includes lots of room for the expression of feelings (theirs) for reassurances that they are loved and will continue to be parented and loved (by you), and for answering questions.
Take Baby Steps
Be careful about speaking of too much change at once. Kids can be resilient but they need time to regain their momentum and their sense of balance after hearing that the big news. It wouldn’t be helpful to tell your children you are getting divorced, the house is for sale, and we’re moving to Kentucky all in one sitting. The same goes for talking about mom’s new boyfriend in the same conversation as the “We aren’t going to live together anymore” one. There will be time for each bit of news to be shared with them, but not all at once! Small doses of information regarding changes generally works best.
Watch For Cues
Pay attention and observe how your children are responding (expression, body language, behavior) to determine if you are giving them T.M.I. (too much information) or if it would help for them to hear a little more from you. Ask them what you just said and see if they are truly comprehending what you are talking about or if they just stare at you with a vacant expression. Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself or express the same message using different words.
Follow up with teachers, baby sitters, family friends, coaches, clergy who are familiar with your child or children and gather information about any changes detected in mood, behavior, appetite, sleeping habits, etc. Learn what your children are saying to others about your family’s transition as well.
Choose Your Words Carefully
Plan out what it is that you are going to say. Rehearse first so that you won’t fumble or choke trying to get the words out. The clearer you can speak, the better. Seek feedback on what you plan to say from trusted friends and family, a Divorce Coach, a Marriage Counselor or a Family Therapist. Remember that while whatever you decide to say should be tailored to your family’s unique needs, there is no need to reinvent the wheel entirely as when it comes to speaking with children about divorce, there is lots of wonderful information available. Look through books about divorce, read articles and blogposts on the web, and find articles written by the professionals. Educate yourself before having the conversation.
Set The Stage
Be mindful of the where, when, and how. Where should this conversation take place? At the dining room table? In the family room? Picking a spot that your children feel comfortable in is important…picking an unusual spot to have a conversation might be alarming and complicate matters. Think ahead about where this should happen.
Consider the time of day that your kids energy level is appropriate to their sitting down with you and listening to major news. If your children play sports and are totally worn out at the end of the day, then perhaps a Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon conversation would work best.(The week they are studying for finals might not be the best choice, but the week after might do).
Remember that while whatever you decide to say should be tailored to your family’s unique needs, there is no need to reinvent the wheel entirely as when it comes to speaking with children about divorce, there is lots of wonderful information available. Look through books about divorce, read articles and blogs on the web, and find articles written by the professionals. Educate yourself before having the conversation so that your children can best hear what you have to say and (hopefully) share a thought or a feeling or two about this news with you.