Making the decision to end your marriage is never easy. However, matters can become even more complicated when children are involved. Parenting through a divorce can be extremely difficult. But before even getting to that stage, it’s important to have a conversation with your children.
Thousands of couples each year, many of whom have children, make the difficult decision to get a divorce. Thus, if you’re wondering how to go about what to say when your child asks why you got divorced, you are not alone.
Here are 6 tips on how to tell your kids you are getting a divorce, along with some additional factors to consider depending on your child’s age.
Tip #1: Plan Out What You Want to Say
For most couples, the decision to divorce is made only after extensive thought and consideration. It would be best to use the same care when deciding how to break the news to your children.
Due to the sensitive nature of this conversation, you will want to be as clear and concise as possible, avoiding language that might confuse or upset your children. Of course, no amount of practice will make for a perfect conversation. However, planning what you want to say can make things go much more smoothly.
Tip #2: Select an Appropriate Time and Place
As noted above, you’ll want a plan for what you intend to say, but the where and when to say it is another essential choice.
There will never be a perfect time to tell your child or children you are getting a divorce. No matter how well you prepare, this will be an emotional and stressful conversation for everyone involved. So it is best to make your child feel as comfortable and relaxed as possible.
It’s generally a good idea to have this conversation in a quiet and private location without distractions or risk of interruptions. Further, if possible, try to select a time when they don’t have schoolwork or other stressors on their minds.
Tip #3: If Possible, Have the Conversation with Both Parents and All Children Present
Although you may have decided to end your marriage, there is value in presenting a united front and telling your child or children of your decision together at the same time. Doing so can help reduce potential miscommunications that may materialize if each parent has a separate conversation with their child. Moreover, when multiple children are involved, having this discussion with all children present can better prevent hurt feelings that could arise if one sibling hears the news before another.
That said, depending on your relationship with your spouse, this may not always be feasible. So don’t feel like you need to tell your children about your decision to divorce together—always use your best judgment and do what’s best for your family.
Tip# 4: Be Honest (Within Reason)
That said, depending on the circumstances, some things may not need to be discussed in detail or brought up at all in this initial conversation.
For example, if one party to the relationship has engaged in an extramarital affair, bringing up these details with your children can lead to emotional turmoil, picking sides, and a number of other potentially negative consequences. Rather, consider framing this in a way that is honest but refrains from disclosing details that your children may find especially upsetting. Simply stating that you are not happy together anymore or that you both decided you want to see other people might be a more appropriate and effective way of communicating the reasons for the divorce.
Again, when in doubt, use your best judgment and try to provide simple and age-appropriate details while remaining honest. It should be noted that oversharing with your child can be construed by some judges or child custody experts as an attempt to manipulate the children, which can have a negative impact when it comes time for custody determinations to be made.
Tip #5: Things Not to Say to a Child of Divorce
Telling your child that you are getting a divorce is a conversation that should be handled delicately. Let’s look at some things you should avoid communicating to your kids when you’re planning to get a divorce.
- Never blame your child for the divorce, either directly or indirectly.
- Do not criticize or speak negatively about your spouse, no matter how angry you are at them. Save that talk for your therapist or friends, but keep it out of earshot of your children.
- Never encourage secrecy or ask your child not to talk about the divorce. Leave the door open for them to come to you in the future with questions or concerns.
- Do not discourage contact between your child and their other parent unless abuse is involved. And if your child’s well-being is in jeopardy, seek a protective order from the court.
- Never minimize your child’s feelings surrounding your decision to get a divorce. Allow them to express their emotions.
While there’s no formula on how to correctly navigate this difficult discussion, there are some things that are better left unsaid.
Tip #6: Encourage Questions
When telling your children you plan to get a divorce, one of the best things you can do is make sure they feel heard and understood. You will want to ensure they know this is a two-way conversation with room for them to ask questions.
Some children may not have any questions immediately. But after the news settles into their minds, it’s important they know that they can bring up any questions and voice their concerns.
You may also need to approach the conversation differently depending on the age and maturity level of your child. Here are some age-by-age considerations to take into account when it comes to discussing divorce with your child.
Toddlers (1-3 Years)
In reality, toddlers are too young to understand complex concepts such as divorce. So trying to discuss the situation with a toddler will likely be unproductive and cause confusion.
It might actually be best to avoid this conversation until your child is older. Rather, at this stage, what matters most is ensuring that you maintain a steady routine as much as possible and continue to provide your toddler with a stable, supportive, and loving environment.
Preschoolers to Early Elementary (4-8 Years)
As toddlers progress into childhood, they will start becoming more aware of their emotions while gaining a basic understanding of relationships. Accordingly, they may now be able to grasp the concept of separation and divorce at a higher level.
That said, young children in this age range may still have difficulty processing, understanding, and expressing their emotions. Further, many children of this age are fearful of abandonment and may blame themselves for your divorce. As such, it is imperative that you keep the conversation simple. Make sure they know that you both still love them and the split has nothing to do with them. Continue to provide reassurance and affirmations of your love and support.
Preteens to Early Teens (9-15 Years)
The preteen and early teenage years are often a period of vast mental and emotional growth and development. Children in this age range will begin to develop more and more interpersonal relationships outside the home. They will likely also be more aware of their surroundings.
Thus, it is especially important not to keep the fact of your impending divorce a secret from children this age. It’s likely that they may have already sensed a shift in the relationship between you and your spouse, and failing to be upfront and honest with your child can lead to feelings of mistrust and betrayal.
Late Teens (16-18)
Most children in their late teens will have a much more mature understanding of relationships. As a result, they may have questions about your decision to get a divorce and how it might impact their future.
Try your best to be open and honest, answer their questions to the best of your ability, and treat them with a level of respect and seriousness that a young adult of their age deserves.
Speak with an Attorney at Plog & Stein P.C. Today
Your children are precious, and telling them about your decision to get a divorce can feel overwhelming. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, our hope is that these tips will provide you with some guidance on how to navigate this difficult conversation.
If you are going through a divorce and are in need of legal support, give the Colorado divorce attorneys at Plog & Stein P.C. a call. Since 1999, we have assisted thousands of clients through some of the most difficult times in their lives, and we hope we have the opportunity to help you in your time of need as well. When you’re ready to get started, contact us to see how our team can fight for your rights today.