How to Tell Children About Divorce

Without question, the most important thing in divorce is to ensure that you minimize the carnage.  This refers not only to our financial assets or our emotional wellbeing, but most of all helping children cope with divorce.  So many couples struggle to find the right words and time to inform their children of their decision to end the marriage and therefore the family unit as it was.

While there are many decisions that we can make, and perhaps remake if we mess up, how we handle telling kids about divorce can either empower them or create victims.  There is nothing positive about being a victim and while some may argue that events cause victimization, the truth of the matter is that our state of mind causes victimization regardless of the event.  So with this in mind and knowing full well that you can either create or destroy based on how you handle things, there are a few to do’s and not to do’s listed below. Before these are laid out however the biggest not to do is to hire a divorce lawyer with the intention of proving your point or winning.  Fighting this out in court is a zero sum game for you and your children.

What “to do” and “not to do” when talking to kids about divorce:

  • Tell the children together (regardless of how hard that might be).  If need be have a third party there to help.
  • Remember to be age appropriate when you tell them about your decision to divorce and why you are getting a divorce.
  • Know that there are 3 categories of children:
    1. Young – younger children tend to fair well with change as long as the “energy” is good and authentic.  Listen to your gut for this.  They need to know that they are not to blame, that they will be with both parents (even if you do not like or agree with each other) and that no matter what Mom and Dad are “ok”.  Their sense of confidence comes from your sense of confidence.   You must get your act together no matter how hard it may be.
    2. Teens – Please do not fight out your divorce with family lawyers —-please save your kids and your souls.  Teens are so vulnerable they can go either way.
      • Read up on the effects of divorce on children prior to having the conversation as you cannot get it wrong.  Teenagers will make decisions with their feet.
      • Asking what they want is dangerous as that is a burden their hormones cannot tolerate.
      • Be straight and be honest without ever bad mouthing the other parent.  This age group is particularly vulnerable to this area and will see one half of themselves a bad.  You can destroy their self-esteem in a moment.
      • Make sure you are mediating your divorce so that you can discuss parenting and money in a way that does not destroy parties resulting in harm to your kids.
      • Watch them very carefully as they can head down the wrong path very quickly.
      • Be patient as you have turned their world upside down. This is not a bad thing by the way, as they need to see healthy relationships to mimic versus unhealthy ones for their own future.
      • If they seem to not really care – that is OK as they are so egocentric that they really may not care.  Remember, they still love you but they are busy finding their own path.
    3. Adult Children – Interestingly enough, sometimes this age group take it the hardest and the affects of divorce on adult children is rarely discussed.
      • With adult children they often feel that their entire life was a lie and now they have to redefine their roots.
      • If they are young adults with perhaps a young marriage or children do not be surprised if their reaction is somewhat hard.  Divorce can be hard for them to process.  Give them time.  Talk to them.
      • Establish a new kind of relationship with them and discuss your dreams so they start to identify you in a positive way without their other parent.
      • Have clear boundaries with them or you will send mixed messages to confuse them and loose their respect in the process.  Remember they will see you through different eyes.  Eyes that show you are human and a person with a new kind of future.  This is good or it can be bad depending on how you frame things.
      • Empower yourself first and they will come around.  Show them that you are OK.
      • Do not burden them with your issues. While they are adults they still need you as their parent.

There are many studies on the effects of divorce on children so educate yourself before telling your kids about your divorce.    Before moving forward with your divorce process here are some general ground rules to follow that may help when divorcing with children:

      • Do not go to court and fight out your divorce. Get over yourself and find an extremely well qualified mediator to assist you.
      • Do consult with a lawyer who can tell you about the law – but ensure you get the whole picture not just the picture of what a win would look like for you. This is such an injustice for families so be careful.
      • Do tell your children about the divorce once you make decisions – come to them with a plan
      • If you need to engage them with questions about living arrangements etc.  Do that in a way that they do not feel they have to choose.
      • Get your children into counseling if they need it. There is no harm ever in this and yet if they need it and do not get it – the harm can be life long.
      • Do not think that that they are overly attached to any material thing — that is not the case. They are attached to what is inside the 4 walls and that can be duplicated anywhere – even in a small cozy apartment.  Note it is usually the parents who are attached to the “things” and projecting that onto the kids.

Just remember – you cannot make a mistake if you come at this event with love and understanding.  Removing the ego is hard and our biggest barrier to peaceful resolution but you can do it.

Read the “The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom” by Don Miguel Ruiz so you understand the power your words can have. Keep it close to you throughout this journey and if you live by it – you and your kids will get through the separation and divorce with an entire platform for exciting new beginnings.

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