One of the most intense conversations you will ever face is talking to your children about divorce—even when it's the best option for your family. This is a big conversation so you need to be prepared. Protecting your children from experiencing any pain is impossible, but there are ways to break the news that will help them feel less overwhelmed and anxious throughout this transitional period.
We often take kids' intuitiveness for granted—they may already have an idea of what's going on. Still, they must hear it from you. The sooner you tell them, the better. And sometimes practicing with a few pre-planned phrases can help.
Here are 10 phrases to help alleviate your kids' stress when talking to them about divorce:
1. "We love you very much."
This conversation will impact your children for years to come, so we advise you to start it out with a loving message. Children often need repetition, so you should sprinkle in reassuring comments as much as you can.
2. "Your dad/mom/parent/etc. and I have been struggling lately."
Be honest with your children about your current situation, but avoid going into any details. Do not make any negative comments about your former spouse or talk about their faults and flaws. Fostering a good relationship with both of their parents is crucial for healthy, emotional development. So, no matter how angry or sad you are, steer clear of any finger-pointing and attacking.
3. "None of this is your fault."
Your children must know that they weren't at fault for your separation. Reassure them that your divorce is only a product of 'adult problems' between you and your former spouse. And that nothing they said or did could've caused the separation.
4. "Do you have any questions?"
You and your spouse should be open to your children's questions. Divorce isn't the easiest concept to understand, so you need to be honest with them. Encourage them to voice any of their worries. If they ask a question you don't have the answer to, or they act on emotion, validate their feelings. Remember, pain is inevitable, and that's okay.
5. "It's okay for you to feel angry or sad."
Your children, regardless of age, should know that they might feel angry, sad, confused or even happy in the days to come. Check-in with them constantly and encourage them to express their feelings. In some cases, your children might act out, withdraw or even change their eating habits. Prevent these behaviors from escalating by setting clear and consistent boundaries with them, and even provide ways for them to express themselves constructively.
6. "There's nothing you can do to fix our marriage, and that's okay."
Reassure your children that it is not their responsibility to fix your marriage. They should know that your divorce is a private matter between you and your former spouse. If they show any interest or raise any questions such as; "What can I do for you to stay together?", tell them plain and simple: "Nothing, this was our choice"—followed by extra comfort and loving reassurance.
7. "We're sure that this is very upsetting for you. We are upset as well."
Telling your kids how you feel is alright, but you should keep that to a minimum. In this situation, less is more. A simple "I'm angry" or "I'm sad" can go a long way. When you discuss the nitty-gritty with them, they might develop negative feelings towards your former spouse, which is detrimental for their mental well-being. Not only that, but these detailed conversations can also increase any lingering feelings of resentment or anxiety.
8. "We will always be your parents."
Depending on your children's ages, they might not exactly understand what your separation entails. Talking to them about how you will always be their parent will ease their anxiety and help clarify their confusion. Still, you and your spouse should back up all of your reassuring comments with corresponding behaviors - this will help your children feel truly reassured.
9. "Some things will change, but a lot of things will remain the same."
Children benefit from being made aware of the changes to come. This allows them to mentally and emotionally prepare for any drastic shifts in their routines. Explain your new living arrangements to them, including how often they'll see your former spouse. But let them know that their lives won't change much besides that. If applicable, tell them they'll still go to the same school, have the same friends, and be able to see you and your former spouse.
10. "Even though it may not feel like it, you're going to be okay. We love you so much."
Your conversation with your children should always end with a reassuring statement. This is a turbulent time in all of your lives, and while it's completely normal to get caught up in your emotions from time to time, you shouldn't let them overshadow your children's feelings. The best option for you is to schedule some 'me-time' to cry, vent and express yourself constructively. The more you take care of yourself, the more available you'll be to better support your children.
Divorce can ultimately be a positive experience for the whole family. Although there will naturally be a long transition period, be patient. Stay in the present, allow your kids to feel sad or hurt—but keep them looking forward. When you set them up for success, you allow them to find the silver lining in this divorce as they grow older.