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Talking to Kids about Divorce

Hand with scissors cutting paper cut out with family member shape / Family problem / Divorce concept

I can recall being 5 years-old and asking my mom and dad, what seemed like 99 questions, such as, “Why are we moving?”, “Why do I have to go to a new school?”, or “Why can’t we spend holidays together?” My mom and dad did their best to provide my sister and I with answers to explain the circumstances of co-parenting and reassurance of their mutual love for us through many family talks.  Addressing the topic of divorce with children can be a difficult task for any parent. However, it can and should be done as a collaborative and unified effort to support and nurture children through this process—engaging the both parents and all children. To lessen the traumatic risks of divorce, consider the following tips when communicating with children about divorce:

1.) When do I tell them?

Timing plays a major role in your children’s coping responses to a divorce. I encourage parents to know that now is a good as time as any. The last thing a parent should want is for their child to find out about their divorce from some else. Find a time that fits with both parents’ schedule to meet at a safe and comfortable venue for the children (usually the family home , if possible).

2.) Who should I tell and who should be present?

All parents and children who make up your immediate family should be involved in the conversation of divorce. Both parents should make an effort to engage in a family meeting to discuss this topic—accountability as mutual facilitators of this meeting is key. You may think that your youngest child is not mature enough to understand the change in family dynamics, but you will be surprised at their ability to understand and process this communication. Moreover, your children will appreciate your inclusion of them later on in life. It is not recommended to include other family members or friends to join in this conversation. However, you may consider supports from a family therapist or pastor.

3.) How much do I tell them?

Two words that comes to mind with this question is “honest censorship”. Providing your children just enough disclosure for them to know and hopefully understand that mom and dad love them very much, but are better off just being friends. Both parents should take ownership for this decision when communicating to children, even if you wanted to sustain your marriage. At no point should either parent vent about their infidelities, financial problems, or substance abuse issues. Think about how disclosing this type of dramatic information can impact your child’s individual relationship with each parent—this is not a “bashing” session.  Reduce your children’s confusion about divorce by offering appropriate truths about the changes to be expected going forward, such as living arrangements, visitation, or school adjustments.

Aside from these tips, it is also important that you allow the child to ask questions and express their feelings surrounding the news. This is a good time to begin assessing their ability to cope with the changes that your family will soon undergo. Try to end the meeting on a positive note and offer openness to your child for further discussion about the divorce, should they have future concerns—and they most certainly will. As parents, understand that you may have to revisit this subject over and over again with your children. Be willing and ready to answer tough questions and provide support and empathy along the way.

Should you find that you have difficulties communicating with your child about divorce, or your child presents significant challenges with coping with the divorce, consider the help of a family therapist. I am therapist specializing in children and adults with divorce care issues with TheSummit Counseling Center. I am living proof that there is hope for your family after divorce and help is just one call away!

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