Telling the children is the part that many parents fear the most. The last thing that they want to do is hurt their children and it's a really difficult conversation to have as the consequences are life changing for the whole family. However there are some guidelines that will make it a little easier if you follow them.
See the situation from your child's point of view: Children often worry that they will be abandoned by one of their parents in a divorce and they will lose them from their lives. As a couple you need to reassure them that you will both always be there for them.
Choose your timing: Make sure you are 100% sure that you cannot save your relationship before you tell the kids. If you are just considering splitting up then keep it between you and your partner. There is no need to involve the children until you are sure there is no way back.
There is never a good time to tell your child but do make sure they do not have to rush off to school or an activity. They will need time with you to discuss their thoughts and feelings.
Agree on what you will say
Make sure you are both giving the same united message across: Do not contradict each other or argue whilst you are telling the children.
Tell them as a couple: Where possible tell them as a couple so that they can see that even though the marriage is ending that you will still both be there for them. Actions speak louder than words and this will support the fact that you are saying you will still both be there for them.
Don't play the blame game: Be fair to each other and don't allocate blame for your break-up or try to get the children to take sides. This puts unfair pressure on your children if they are asked to choose between parents. Often this will back fire anyway as the child will side with the parent who is being bad mouthed. Put the kid's best interests first to protect them from any unnecessary emotional damage.
Reassure your children: Make it clear that it is not their fault and they are not to blame. Ensure they understand that your divorce has absolutely nothing to do with them or anything they have done. Often children think they could be responsible for the break-up and this can cause undue emotional stress for them. Reassurance and cuddles are important here.
Don't go into details: Keep it simple and avoid unnecessary details. There will be a lot for your children to take in so don't overwhelm them with too much information. Allow them time to absorb the break-up and overcome the initial shock. Let them know that you will both be happy to answer any questions they have.
Be honest and real: Don't make promises you cannot keep just to lessen the impact. Stick to the facts and don't try to gloss over the fact that there will be some changes coming. Prepare your children on how to cope with these changes and reassure them that the divorce will not change the love that you both have for them and that you will both be there for them.
Try not to get over emotional: The children will take their lead from you and if they can see you are handling it ok it will set a precedent for them to follow. Remember that you are the adult in this situation and you do not need your child to support or comfort you. Whilst they will see this has not been an easy decision for either of you to make they will see that you are sure that you have made the right one.
Do what you can to smooth the transition for your children:
- Don't make any drastic changes to their usual daily routines.
- Do not use them as a "go-between" between the two of you
- Keep all discussions about the divorce and any upcoming lifestyle changes out of earshot
- Do not make them the "little man of the house" or the "little woman of the house" now that your ex has gone as this is way too much pressure for a child
- Remember that the kids should not be there to comfort you, this is your role as a parent
- Do not argue or fight with your ex in front of the kids
- Do not bad mouth the other parents in front of your kids or ask them to take sides
- Notify the school and other key people in their lives so that they have support elsewhere
- If they would like to speak to a professional about their feelings then arrange this for them
- Be on hand to answer any questions that they may have as openly and honestly as possible
- Keep reassuring them as they will need to hear this regularly. Also back it up with actions that support this.
Children are more resilient that we think and can often adjust better to changes than adults. Remember they will take their lead from you so be united as best you can and reassure them that you will both be there for them. You are their role models and your children can learn a positive lesson on how to handle tough situations if you handle this well.