Tip Sheet: How To Tell Your Kids About Your Divorce

In a recent interview for BBC Radio, Tom Hanks revealed that he was distraught by his parents’ divorce when he was a child.  In partic
ular, he expressed how lonely he felt and that the most difficult part for him was that was that he was never really told what was going on.  Like most divorcing couples, his parents probably just wanted to protect him as much as they could from the situation.  It is easy to forget that ‘kids are like sponges’ and that they pick up on everything that is going on around them.  Despite this, children will often rely on their parents to make sense of everything. Here’s a short list of tips that you may want to consider if you are divorcing with children:

Tip: Plan and prepare ahead

When breaking the news of divorce to your children, it is best if both parents can manage to temporarily set aside their feelings and/or opinions of what went wrong in the marriage and discuss the matter as a family.  Most importantly, make sure you and your spouse discuss in advance what approach you’re going to take to explain the new situation (including what words, reasons, etc.) This will ensure that the message is conveyed as simply as possible. Using words such as “we” or “Mum and Dad”, as opposed to phrases that infer blame, such as “your father is moving out…” will help portray a united message.

Tip: Take a no-fault approach

Next, it’s hard not to play the blame game in a divorce.  Yet, while you and your spouse are too busy deciding whose fault it was, your children may be playing the same game and believe that it is their fault that their parents can’t live together anymore.  This is a very natural response among children to assume that they’ve done something wrong.  However, you should assure your children that they aren’t to blame for what’s happening. They should be reminded that both parents love them equally, even though one parent may be living somewhere else.  In addition, just because your spouse wasn’t a good husband or wife to you does not mean that they aren’t going to be a good parent to their children.

Tip:  Monitor their reactions

Understand that it’s normal for children to react to the news differently, especially depending on the age group they are in.  Reactions could include overt behaviour expressing anger, hurt, sadness, relief, etc. or no reaction at all.  Therefore, it’s important for parents to check in daily/weekly during the transition period to make sure that you’re recognizing reactions and new behaviours and are available to talk to them, if they need it.

Tip: Deal with changes as they come

It will be important to inform children what they can expect to change in their routines such as custody arrangements, living arrangements, etc.  This doesn’t have to be done all in one sitting, as it can be overwhelming for all parties.  But as you work out the details, share them with your children.  Allow them to ask questions, and give their opinions on matters that affect them if they are able.  Remember, after the transition period, the new changes will become the new ‘normal’.

If you have any questions concerning divorce and children, please contact a specialist at Grayfords to discuss.

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