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How To Tell Your Kids You’re Getting Divorced

The end of your marriage is a painful process. The emotional turmoil you feel is amplified when children are involved. One of the hardest moments you’ll face in your divorce is when you have to break the news of your split to your children.

Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer to the question, “How should I tell my kids we’re getting divorced?” Telling a toddler about your divorce is a much different conversation than if you’re breaking the news to a teenager. Still, both are challenging in their own right.

Many of our clients have children of different ages and must adapt their style to suit the child’s age and personality. While there isn’t a script we can give you, we hope the tips that follow help to ease the burden for both you and your child.

Stage 1: Planning for “The Talk”

One of the greatest gifts you can give your child during this tumultuous time is to put your differences aside and deliver the news together. Showing a united front, at least when it comes to parenting, will help your child cope with the big changes ahead.

If your divorce resulted from infidelity, abuse, or another situation that renders it impossible to be in the same room together, you’ll have to take an alternative route. Even if you’re angry with your spouse though, it’s important to approach the conversation with your child logically and with a calm demeanor. Put your differences aside and avoid blaming your partner for the split.

Regardless of if you tell them together or separately, resist the urge to disparage your partner in front of your child. Trying to get your child to dislike your spouse will only negatively impact their ability to cope with the changes. It’s also the exact opposite of what the court deems appropriate behavior. Rhode Island family laws state that each parent is responsible for upholding the bond between a child and the other parent.

Try to figure out answers to the questions your child will have. Most questions will center around changes to your child’s life. Don’t be surprised or offended if they’re overly focused on what will happen to them instead of how you’re doing. This is completely normal and it’s your job to help alleviate their concerns.

Typical questions include…

 

  • Who will I live with?
  • Will we have to move?
  • Do I have to change schools?
  • Why are you getting a divorce?
  • When is this all happening?

 

You don’t need to have all the answers. Offering reassurance and a listening ear is often enough for your child to feel safe and loved.

Stage 2: Tailor Your Approach To Your Child

Now that you’ve decided how you’re going to tell your children, either together with your spouse or alone, it’s time to customize your approach to your child’s age and stage.

If you have children of multiple ages, you might want to tell them individually before you talk about it together. Just make sure you do it quickly, so your child hears the news from you versus hearing it from a sibling. What’s listed below is a simple guideline for children of various ages.

Toddlers

Young children have little understanding of the complexities of adult relationships. Keep your explanation simple and aim to reassure them that they are loved and will continue to be.

Young Children and Tweens

Kids between 5-12 years of age have a better understanding of divorce. Along with this knowledge comes more questions about what divorce means for them. They’ll also need ample reassurance that they are loved and the divorce has nothing to do with them. Pay attention to any questions and offer compassion and understanding.

Teens

Teenagers are often the hardest hit by divorce. Perhaps it’s because they’re coming into their own and feel as though they don’t need parental guidance. An attitude of indifference may actually be an attempt at hiding fear, anxiety or insecurities. Offer your teen just as much reassurance as you would a younger child. Help them understand this difficult time by being open and receptive to questions throughout the process.

Stage 3: Best Practices and Common Mistakes

Breaking the news of your divorce to your child is one of the hardest things you’ll do as a parent. There are things you can do to help your child and others you should avoid doing as they could risk more harm.

Here are a few best practices to help you and your child through this difficult time.

  • Let go of expectations. Children don’t always react the way we expect them to. It’s not unusual for talkative, outgoing children to hear the news of your impending divorce and clam up. Your job is to let your child know that they can talk to you about any questions they have.
  • Offer follow-up conversations. Check in with your child periodically to see how they’re doing. While you don’t want to constantly talk about the divorce, you do want your child to feel confident that they can come to you with their concerns, questions, and frustrations.
  • Arm Yourself With Resources. One upside to the commonality of divorce is the availability of resources for children of all ages. Arm yourself with age-appropriate books that discuss divorce from a child’s perspective, as they can help comfort and reassure a child that they are not alone.
  • Have a backup plan. It’s hard to know how kids will react when they hear the news. One way to prepare yourself is by talking to divorced friends and/or trusted school counselors about recommendations for child professionals. These professionals have experience working with children who are distressed, anxious or sad. If you foresee an issue, you might want professionals before you talk to your child as a preemptive measure. If your child’s response does not go the way you hoped, having a professional to turn to can help them manage feelings and anxieties.

Avoid Common Missteps in Your Rhode Island Divorce

Most children take cues from their parents. If your child thinks you’re upset or distraught, they’ll often feel similiarily. Here are tips on how to avoid common mistakes parents tend to make when emotions are high.

  • Recognize that your child isn’t your confidante. As the parent, you’re tasked with shielding them from the details of your split. Take a measured approach in discussing the divorce with your child. Similarly, avoid making disparaging remarks about your ex on social media or within earshot of your child.
  • Honor the parent and child bond between the two of you and between your child and the other parent. Avoid the urge to blame your partner for the divorce or turn your child into your ally against them.
  • Don’t play games.  Avoid using your child to deliver messages to your partner or asking them to spy on the other parent. If your partner has moved out, it can be tempting to want to know exactly what’s going on in the other household. Any attempt at undercutting your ex runs the risk of damaging your relationship with your child and negatively impacting your child’s ability to cope.
  • Avoid talking about custody issues with your child. Any issues surrounding where your child will live should be discussed with your partner and your lawyer before bringing your child into the mix.

Telling your children that you’re getting a divorce isn’t easy, but by using some of these tips, you can help your child manage the situation effectively. Focus on what’s important and what will remain the same, the love you have for your child and how you’ll continue to work together as parents. With this strategy and a backup plan in place for any issues that arise, your child should be able to copy and maintain a healthy attachment to both of you during this stressful time.

When it comes to divorce, we have the expertise to help you through this incredibly challenging time. For help with your divorce, contact Kirshenbaum Law Associates at 401-467-5300.

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