How to talk to your children
Important messages to give your children during divorce
Below are some examples of things children need to hear:
- While the feelings we have for each other have changed, we will never stop loving you.
- We know this will be hard for you, and we are sorry.
- You can always love both parents.
- Just because we may be unhappy with each other, does not mean you have to be upset.
- What has happened is not your fault – you did not cause this.
- Divorce is a grown-up problem that you cannot change.
- We will always be your parents.
- You will always have a family. Instead of being a family in one home, you will have a family in two homes.
- We will both continue to be a part of your life.
Discuss what you will tell children beforehand
Whether talking to children together or individually, children need to hear the same messages from both of you. Try to keep explanations simple and avoid placing blame. Use general statements such as, ‘We will be happier living in different homes’.
If you cannot agree on what to say
Sometimes due to hurt and pain, you may feel that your children need to ‘hear the truth’. In some families, one parent may try to blame the other for the divorce.
Holding one parent responsible for the divorce often creates a confusing and difficult situation for children. They will most likely feel torn and worried about betraying or rejecting a parent. Whether or not you initiated the divorce, try to view the situation through your children’s eyes. Children have a right to love both parents.
If you can’t agree, try talking to someone neutral first, such as a counsellor or a helpline. They can help you agree on what you will tell your children.
Initial talk and follow-up conversations
When you first speak to your children about your divorce or separation, don’t overwhelm them with information. Try to keep the discussion straightforward and age-appropriate. Focus on the fact that you are separating or getting a divorce and how life will change.
It is likely that your children will have questions that may need follow-up conversations. Follow-up talks don’t have to be formal or structured. You may find that children are open to talking during times such as bedtime, meal times or while engaged in other activities.
Let children know how life will change
Try to address major concerns for children such as:
- when and how they will see each parent
- where they will live and go to school
- how they will spend time with important family members
- how life will be different.
If your children have questions you are not ready to answer, let them know that you are both still working out the details. Reassure them that when you have an answer, they will be the first to know.
Tell children they are not to blame
It is quite natural for children to feel responsible when parents split up. Make sure your children understand that your decision to divorce or separate had nothing to do with them or their behaviour.
Additionally, children need to know that there is nothing they can do to change what is happening in the family. Reinforce the point that it is not their responsibility to try and make things better between you both.
Make sure children know they can ask questions and talk about how they feel
Let children know you understand this will be a difficult change for them. They also need to hear that they will probably have many different feelings. Reassure them that it is okay to ask questions or talk to either parent.
Keep your issues separate from your children’s feelings
When you find yourself having a strong reaction to something your children say, try to stay focused. If you are finding it too difficult, give yourself time out to process what is going on and how you feel about the situation.