Depending on the age of the child, this moment might be something that they will always remember - the time you told them that you, mummy and daddy, were going to live separately. It is therefore critical that the news is conveyed with caution.
Here is what you will need to keep in mind and to have in place when and while you are breaking the news.
Chose the right time. You know your children best so you will know when the right time is. However, before bed is not usually a good idea as this means that they are left with their own thoughts through the night, not the best time to digest such news. You want them to be able to come to you through the day with any questions they may have. Of course they will still think about it when the lights are out and for a long time coming but let's reduce the pain and stress as much as possible.
Tell them together wherever possible. This may sound obvious but I have heard of cases where one parent has taken it upon him/herself to talk to the children without the knowledge of the other. If you cannot tell them together for whatever reason, do let the other parent know what, when and how you are intending to tell the children and later as you tell the children, do let them know, from the start that their father/mother knows that you are talking to them.
Agree on what you will be telling them. As we all know, words carry a lot of power and prepare yourselves for questions.
Some questions to anticipate:
- Don't you love mummy/daddy any more?
- Where are we going to live?
- Am I changing schools?
- Will I still see daddy/mummy?
Most importantly reassure them that it is not their fault in any way. Really make sure that they get this. Contrary to popular belief, not all children blame themselves but it does happen, depending on age. You might have to revisit this with them again and again.
Be honest. If it's a trial separation then let them know, if it's definitely going to end in a divorce then let them know that too. Don't give them false hope nor promise them anything that you know you cannot deliver. If you don't have an answer to a question then let them know that.
Tell them when you're somewhere safe, somewhere calm and preferably somewhere familiar to them. This way there are neither new nor noisy distractions. They can concentrate on what is going on here and now. Don't make it a 'special' occasion i.e. take them to the cinema, get them whatever they want and then out to lunch in their favourite restaurant and break the news in there. They don't need any associations with the news i.e. they don't need to always see a Pizza Express or a Zizzi restaurant and "remember the time when..."
Avoid asking children to keep what is happening to themselves. Yes, this does truly happen. This is very heavy news for a child to carry. They should be able to do it speak or share the news with whomever they chose.