9.7Susan M. Hais

If you are getting a divorce, it’s very important to tell your children about it at the right time and in the right way. It can be very emotionally damaging, for example, for children to hear about the divorce accidentally, especially if it’s part of an emotional exchange between you and your spouse. Children can get very anxious about a divorce. It may mean different things to them than it does to you. They may fear losing a parent, or moving, or feel stressed about who will take care of them. It’s very important to see things from their perspective.

Here are some tips on how to tell children about divorce.

  1. Choose a Time and Sit Down with Them

Don’t work the fact that you and your spouse are getting a divorce into a casual conversation. Divorce is likely to have a major impact on your children. Treat it as if it’s major. Pick a time comfortable for both them and you, without time pressures or interruptions. Both you and your spouse should do this together, if possible. Explain that you have decided to get a divorce. You may say it is because you have decided you will be happier apart, if that’s the case, but don’t recriminate against each other or give detailed reasons. Simply explain that a divorce is occurring.

  1. Reassure Them

It’s very important to use this time to reassure your children about the impact of the divorce. If you plan joint custody, explain that they will continue to see both parents. Explain that they will live with one parent. Express your continuing love and care for them. Say this explicitly: that their parents will continue to be their parents.

Know that it’s not uncommon for children to wonder if they did something to cause the divorce, or to feel guilty that it’s happening. They may even wonder if minor misbehavior has caused a parent to want to leave. Here, too, be sure to reassure them that the divorce is not their issue. Never make them feel responsible or guilty.

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