By Sharon Clark, Ph.d. Psychologist, Collaborative Coach and Child Specialist
The steps parents take in the beginning of their separation can have a huge impact on how children adjust to the divorce. Taking time to think and plan for how and when to talk to the children about the separation will set the stage for them to understand that they can rely on both parents to be there for them during difficult times. The children will see that their parents, cooperatively, treat their feelings as important, and that the parents and children are still a family.
Important guidelines for parents to talk to their children about separation and divorce:
- Agree on a script that explains to the children reasons the parents are separating. Refrain from blaming each other or divulging too many relationship details that children do not understand. Use statements such as “we were not getting along” or “we had differences that led to us growing apart”. Children often sense this is coming when they’ve heard arguments or felt the tension. Explain to the children that it is important for them to grow up in a happier home.
- Reassure the children that they are loved and they are in no way responsible for their parents’ separation. Children and teens will also feel great relief from hearing that they are not responsible for fixing any of the adult problems.
- Include information regarding what will stay the same (e.g. they will still see each parent, go to the same school, etc. . .)
- Prepare for answering their questions (e.g. where will they live? Can the pet come with them?)
- Acknowledge that they may have many feelings regarding the separation such as, anger, sadness, worry, confusion and disbelief. Tell them that you are okay with talking about any of their feelings. If the talk makes either parent sad, angry or worried, that parent should reassure the children that he/she will take care of his/her own feelings.
- Plan a time to talk with the children together briefly, then give them time to process the information and check in with them later regarding how they are feeling and whether they have questions.
- Consult with a therapist from nocourt.org if you experience difficulty with the planning or talking process or if you worry about your child’s reaction to the divorce.