Are you going through a separation or divorce? Do you worry about how you’re going to tell your children what’s happening?
We’ve put together 6 tips for talking to your kids about your divorce, from leading family lawyer in Perth, Ella Hickman of Hickman Family Lawyers.
Tell Them The Truth
Before you do anything, you and your ex both need to take some time to plan when, how, and exactly what you will say to your kids. Without divulging too much information, your children deserve to know the truth.
There is no need, however, to overwhelm them with specific details as to why you are separating. When they ask for reasons, and they will, you could say that you are no longer happy together, or something equally simple that fits your circumstances.
Choosing the right time to break the news is also of huge importance. Pick a time when everyone is together and not just before going to school, a sports event or at bedtime. To minimise the trauma, you both need to try to remain cool, calm and unemotional, as hard as that may be. No arguing, no anger, and no blaming. The calmer you both remain the less anxiety your child will feel.
On the other hand, the children may already be aware that things weren’t going so well between you, and the news may not come as a complete surprise.
All separations bring a level of anxiety to everyone especially small children, and your job now is to minimise that as far as possible.
First and foremost, you need to reassure them that this was not their fault and your love for them will never change. You will still remain a family but you will be living in different homes. Other than that, nothing else will change. They need to be reassured that the divorce is between the parents and does not apply to children.
The two important things that they will want to know, is what will change, and even more importantly, what will stay the same. Firstly, who is going to move out and who is going to stay? With whom will they be living? When or how often will they see their other parent? Will they still go the same school and see their friends?
Spell out clearly exactly what life will be like for them and focus only on the future rather than the past.
Invite & Answer Their Questions
Be prepared for a barrage of all types of questions, not necessarily all straight away, but over the next few weeks and even months. Invite their questions and answer them with honesty and clarity. If you don’t know the answer, just say so. There’s no shame in not having the answer to everything.
Make them feel that they have a say too, and if old or mature enough, encourage them to share their input and suggestions during this difficult period in their lives.
Once their main questions and concerns are answered and the initial shock subsides, reality and acceptance of their situation will begin to set in, paving the way for normality to return.
Keep It Age-Appropriate
What you say, how they will react or how you answer each question, will obviously depend on the age and level of maturity of each child.
Teenagers will react different to pre-schoolers or toddlers. Teenagers may press you for more details regarding the divorce, and while only you can decide on what or how much detail you share with them, we recommend avoiding discussing legal or financial matters with them, unless necessary.
Also, do not use your children to “spy on” or divulge any information regarding your ex.
A great way to discuss your divorce with your children is through reading – here’s a great list of books that help to explain divorce to children across a range of age groups.
Stay On The Same Page With Your Ex
Before you even begin to tell your children of your impending divorce, you both need to agree as to how much information you will share with your kids.
You both need to agree not to show any anger or blame, not to bad-mouth or belittle each other in front of your children at all times, and not put them in the middle pressurising them to take sides.
Let Them Express Their Emotions
There will be emotions and reactions. Depending on their ages, there may well be tears, anger, fear or disappointment, or they may shut down and show no emotion at all. That too is a reaction. Each child is different, so don’t be alarmed at any of their reactions – they are all to be expected.
Let them express their emotions and give them the time and space to adjust.
Remember that all this temporary and with time, kids and parents will learn to adjust. Thousands of families go through the divorce process and if navigated well by both parents, it can be made as smooth a transition as possible.