The last thing a parent wants to do is cause their child any pain. Sharing life-changing news with a child can be intimidating and difficult, but doing so early can save them from unnecessary added heartache.
If you and your spouse are planning to split up, have an open dialogue about how to share this news with the kids. When possible, do it together. Every family unit is unique, but here are a few basic tips to prepare for telling the kids about an impending divorce.
Don't go in unprepared
One of the biggest missteps you could make is to tell the kids about a divorce before thinking through how to do so. Not only should you try to work with your spouse to present a united front, but also consider seeking outside help for how to have this conversation.
It may be beneficial to discuss a strategy with a therapist or family counselor. Professionals trained in child psychology can advise what kind of language to use and how to handle potential responses from the kids.
Do listen to the response
This conversation should ideally not be one-sided. The parents need to express the fact that their relationship as a married couple is ending and what that means for the whole family, but kids also need to be free to express their feelings and feedback.
Depending on the age, maturity and overall demeanor of your child, everyone may respond differently. Tears, anger, confusion and even relief are all valid responses and should be treated as such. Shutting down a child's response because it isn't what you expected won't alleviate the situation any more.
Don't immediately separate
Have you ever heard stories of a child whose parents told them about a divorce and one parent had a packed suitcase within view? An image like this can have lasting effects for a child and may only add to the difficulty of a parental split.
If it's possible and safe for all parties, try not to have one parent immediately leave after this conversation. While you and your partner have prepared to separate, your child just found out what is happening. If one parent can stay in a guest room or somewhere else in the home, at least for that first night, it may help lessen the shock of the new family dynamics.
Do give space and compassion
Some of the best things you can give a child after a conversation like this are time and space. Prioritize their schedule and know that it may take hours or even days for them to feel up to performing their regular tasks.
One option is to wait until the weekend or another break period to tell kids about a divorce. This down time gives them the chance to process however they need without immediately falling behind in school or other activities. It's important that both parents be mindful of a child's behavior and academic performance during a separation.
You want what is best for your child's happiness and wellbeing. Taking the time to prepare a strategy for telling kids about a divorce can help lessen the negative impact from such news.