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How to Tell Your Children You are Getting a Divorce

One of the biggest challenges with a divorce is determining how to inform your children and how to navigate the divorce with your children in a way that minimizes the long term impact on their mental health. Divorce statistics related to children of divorce point out many potentially detrimental effects. It’s important to not underestimate the challenge of properly communicating with your children during and after your divorce.

The first challenge you and your spouse will face is figuring out how to tell your children. The answer depends on a few factors. The age of your children, your personal relationship with each child, and your children's relationships with each other are primary factors. With that in mind, here are a few tips to help you handle the situation.

Talk to your children immediately upon deciding that you and your spouse are divorcing. It is important for your children to hear the information first hand from you rather than from a friend or family member.

If possible, both parents should be present and active in breaking the news to your children together. Ensure that both you and your spouse are on the same page about the narrative you wish to share with your children. Most experts agree that telling all of your children at once is preferable to telling them separately. Because children process information differently depending on maturity level, it is important to diligently plan this conversation out. This relatively small time investment to thoroughly prepare for the initial conversation can have a large impact on the outcome of the discussion.

For children at lower maturity levels of 4-5 or younger, simple but firm explanations are ideal. It may help to list these items out with bullet points of 7 words or less in preparation for this conversation. As maturity levels increase, the same process will help control the conversation's outcome, but you will need to be prepared to expand further with your older children. Follow up conversations with each child individually while both parents are present may help depending on the family dynamics.

Most importantly, do not place blame on your children or on the other parent. What presents the biggest challenge in this task is that you must also provide a logical explanation of why you are separating at the same time. Regardless of this challenge, you must remain calm and collected during this conversation. If you don’t help your children make sense of the situation, they are likely to come to their own conclusions which could be detrimental to your relationship with your children and your children's future intimate relationships. Allow your children to ask questions and process their emotions throughout the conversation.

It may be helpful to tell your children that you and your spouse are divorcing on a weekend to lessen the interference with school the following day. Telling your children earlier in the evening rather than at bedtime can also allow them more time to digest the information.

Consider telling your children’s teachers, baby-sitters, and physicians so they are aware of the situation and can monitor your child for any abnormal behavior.

Statistics indicate that up to 25% of children of divorce have ongoing behavioral and emotional challenges. In addition to putting in the effort required as a parent to ensure that your children handle the divorce well, therapy can also help manage the outcome for your children. Reaching out to a licensed Marriage and Family therapist (MFT) early in the divorce process to schedule individual or joint sessions should be strongly considered. You know yourself and your family members best so your intuition will guide you throughout the process naturally, however, adding the right licensed MFT to the equation can further ensure that everyone in your family has the most positive outcome possible.

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