Every year, thousands of kids experience the stresses related to the divorce of their parents. Most kids will come through the experience able to handle stress more easily, becoming more flexible and tolerant young adults; however, knowing how to tell kids about divorce is important to how the kids react and cope. How kids react to the news of their parents’ impending divorce depends on their age, personality and the particular circumstances surrounding the process.
Even as single parents, we are called upon to help our kids deal with divorce, whether our own after a long separation or the divorce of the parents of our kids’ friends. Regardless of whose divorce is looming, kids react to divorce and the news of an upcoming divorce in basically the same ways.
So, how can we as parents, both single and married, help our kids through this difficult process? Listed below are the most important ways parents can help their kids deal with the divorce:
- Keep visible conflict, heated discussions, and legal talk away from the kids.
- Minimize disruptions to kids’ daily routines.
- Confine negativity and blame about each other to private therapy sessions or conversations with friends outside the home.
- Keep each parent involved in the kids’ lives.
Breaking the News about Divorce
Knowing how to tell kids about divorce is often elusive when it comes time to break the news to the kids; however, it is important to have both parents break the news together if at all possible. When breaking the news to your kids, keep one basic message in the forefront of the discussion: Whatever happened is between mom and dad; it is not their (the kids’) fault that mom and dad are getting a divorce.
How much information should you share with your kids? The information you share will depend on their ages and personalities. Here are a few suggestions on what and how much information to share:
- Answer questions as truthfully as possible.
- Discuss how their daily routines will or will not change.
- Keep it simple, especially for younger kids.
- Handling the Kids’ Reactions to Divorce
Thinking about how your kids will react to the news about your divorce and how you will handle their reactions can be a bit intimidating. NOT telling them is not an option. So, how do you handle the kids’ reactions anyway? Here are a few suggestions on how to handle your kids’ reactions when you break the news to them about an upcoming separation and divorce:
- Let them know you care about their feelings and that feeling upset is okay.
- Assure them it is okay if they do not react right away; other times to talk will come up.
- Make sure they know you both love them.
As kids continue to process the news that mom and dad are getting a divorce, be prepared to answer many questions that include the following:
- Who will I live with?
- Will I have to go to a different school?
- Will I have to move?
- Where will each parent live?
- Where and with whom will we spend holidays?
- Can I still see my friends?
- Can I still go to camp this summer?
Handling the kids’ reactions to the news of the divorce begins the process of helping kids copy with the news of an upcoming divorce.
Helping Kids Cope with Divorce
Kids cope with the news about divorce in many different ways. You as the parent can help your kids cope by helping them through the grieving process for the loss of the kind of family they have always known. Even though most kids will hold out hope that their parents will get back together or stay together, this does not generally happen.
Grief is a natural part of divorce as you and your kids grieve the loss of family togetherness and a marriage ending. Let the kids know it is normal to want mom and dad to get back together again, however, also let them know the divorce is still going to happen. You can help your kids cope with divorce in several ways:
- Encourage kids to be honest – let them know their feelings are important and will be taken seriously.
- Help them put feelings into words – kids’ behavior is often a clue to how they are feeling inside.
- Legitimize their feelings – let them know what they are feeling is valid.
- Offer support – let the kids tell you what will help them feel better or make a few suggestions.
- Stay healthy – take care of yourself so your stress level remains as low as possible.
- Keep the details private – no airing the dirty laundry in front of the kids; refrain from blaming or name-calling where the kids can hear you.
- Get help – find support for you and your kids such as a support group or counseling.
How to tell kids about divorce is a struggle all parents experience. Helping the kids to cope in the face of a divorce is a challenge for parents already feeling the pain and stress of divorce. Your feelings are just as important as the kids’ feelings as each travels the path toward divorce.
Do whatever it takes to help your kids successfully navigate the feelings and grief divorce brings. Learn how to tell your kids about divorce in a way that leads to healthy coping and healing.