By Rosalind Sedacca, CDC
When faced with divorce, at some point you need to have the dreaded “tell the kids” talk with your children. To prepare and support them in the best possible way, it’s best for both parents to have the conversation together with the children. Take your time, be empathic, and be sure to include these 6 crucial break-the-divorce news messages:
OUR DIVORCE IS NOT YOUR FAULT. Parents need to understand that most children, regardless of their age, will feel guilty and believe they hold some blame for their parents’ divorce. Parents need to remind kids often, in different ways, that they are not responsible, even when the parents have been fighting about the children. Your kids are always innocent and need to believe this. Don’t let them try to “fix” your parental problems, as we all know they are powerless to do so. And it’s not their responsibility.
YOUR PARENTS WILL STILL BE YOUR PARENTS. Most children will fear losing one or both parents through the divorce. Both parents must firmly tell the kids that, despite the divorce, we are and always will be your parents. Remind your children, despite changes in home environments, we are still your family. This message is vital to convey, even if one or both parents have new partners entering the family dynamic. Reach out to a divorce coach or therapist to help you clarify this important reminder.
BOTH PARENTS WILL LOVE YOU ALWAYS. It’s crucial to tell your children often that both of their parents still love them and will always love them, during and long after the divorce. Many children are riddled with fears about losing one or both parents — or that either parent can divorce them if they misbehave or get bad grades. This is a time to be especially compassionate and reassuring about your parenting love and support being certain and unconditional.
REFRAIN FROM BLAME. Post-divorce parenting is about adapting to change without judgment and finger-pointing at one another. The more united parents can be for the kids, the easier they will adapt. So, don’t blame their other parent for the breakup. Talk about change being a natural part of life. Despite the changes in the form of our family, we can remain be a family still. This will be especially evident when parents are working together for mutual goals on behalf of the children they love!
YOU’LL BE SAFE AND PROTECTED. Divorce takes an enormous emotional toll on children. It sabotages their sense of safety and security in the world. Consequently, all children must be reassured that their parents are keeping them safe. Kids needs to know life will go on and they can still depend on their parents for physical, mental and emotional support. Be there when they need you to answer questions and provide suggestions for coping with anxiety and changes ahead.
YOU’RE GOING TO BE FINE. Tell your kids they will be okay, despite the divorce. Affirm that both parents are busy making plans for the entire family in weeks and months ahead. It’s up to you to make decisions that are responsible as well as compassionate, especially for the kids. Remember you’re a role model for your kids. They are watching and learning from you. Be the parent they deserve and recognize your children’s emotional and psychological needs.
While things will never be the same again, it’s vitally important to stress what will be the same: their home, friends, school, neighborhood, activities, etc. when that’s the case.
For changes that will never be the same, address them one by one, with reassurance that you are there for them every step of the way. Children thrive on security and structure. Focus on the structure and routine that is still part of their life. Then explore together what to expect ahead, what choices they have, and some of the positive aspects of what will change.
Allow your children to vent and express anger or fear. Don’t judge them or make them wrong. Listen without lecturing and acknowledge their right to their feelings. Then talk about ways to address some of their needs while accepting that other things will be different, like the seasons ahead.
This is a process that demands empathy and sincerity. When children know you are there with them, they are more able to adapt to change. Need support? Find an experienced divorce coach or therapist who understands the challenges you will be facing in your personal family dynamics.
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Rosalind Sedacca, CDC is the founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network, a Divorce & Co-Parenting Coach and author of numerous books, e-courses and programs on divorcing with children and co-parenting successfully. Her ebook, How Do I Tell the Kids About the Divorce? is an internationally acclaimed resource for parents. For instant download of her FREE EBOOK on Doing Co-Parenting Right: Success Strategies For Avoiding Painful Mistakes! go to: childcentereddivorce.com/book
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