Telling your children about a divorce will always be difficult. But the conversation also provides an opportunity for parents: the first chance to practice co-parenting together in the face of the split.
In order to achieve the best outcome, we suggest that both parents independently consult expert resources on telling kids about divorce. These resources may include family therapists, individual counselors and books. Then, the spouses can have an informed conversation with one another, using the ideas found to formulate a plan for the conversation with their children.
Here are a few basic ideas to get the conversation going.
1. Give some thought to the setting.
In Psychology Today, Dr. Kevin Arnold, Ph.D, points out that most children will remember the moment that they learn of the divorce for a long time. Arnold suggests thinking carefully about the where and the when of telling kids about the divorce.
2. Stick to a simple message.
The American Association of Pediatrics suggests that messy details may encourage children to feel that they can or should become involved in fixing the problem. Choose a few simple sentences to announce the divorce, reassuring children that it is not their fault and reinforcing the fact that they are still completely loved.
3. Consider having several talks.
Like adults, children need time to process information. Shirley Thomas and Dr. Robi Ludwig, Psy.D., authors of a co-parenting book, suggest planning a few short conversations instead of one long conversation.
The focus of the conversations will differ depending on the age of your children. We suggest that parents consider what types of information are appropriate at what age, and what concerns children of different ages are likely to have.
Older children and children with friends who have divorced parents may be especially concerned about the process of divorce. An agreement to use divorce mediation allows parents to truthfully reassure children that the divorce process will be handled as calmly and as cooperatively as possible.
Gerald A. Maggio is a trained Riverside divorce mediator who has amicably resolved cases many cases out of court, as well as an experienced divorce and family law attorney. Mr. Maggio founded California Divorce Mediators in 2012 with the belief that although “not every marriage can be saved, every family can” and a mission to save families from the financial and emotional distress associated with traditional divorce litigation. California Divorce Mediators is located in Irvine, California, and serves the Orange County area and other counties in California offering divorce mediation, child custody mediation and mediation of other family law matters.