Stu Webb, author of “The Collaborative Way to Divorce: The Revolutionary Method that Results in Less Stress, Lower Costs, and Happier Kids, Without Going to Court” wrote that “even under the best circumstances divorce is fraught with emotions but what is most important is how parents conduct themselves during divorce.”
In this blog post we discuss “how” to tell your kids about divorce, “when” is the best time to tell them, and “what” to tell them, i.e. the overarching messages they need to hear.
Rosalind Sedacca, CDC and founder of Child Centered Divorce is an expert divorce and parenting coach. She has dedicated her professional life to helping parents navigate all things divorce related with the best interests of their children front and center. Through her in person or virtual sessions, e-books and other resources, she has been a great resource for our clients and divorcing families beyond the Denver metro area.
We asked Rosalind the following questions to get a better idea of the how, when and what to say to your children about divorce.
Question: How do I cope with the tears, anger and pain that my children will feel?
Help them put what they are feeling into words and validate those words and let them know that you hear what they are saying and that you understand they’re sad/angry/hurt/confused. Ask follow up questions like, if you’re sad, do you need a little alone time? Or do you want to meet up with a friend? Don’t leave it open ended and say something like, “I know you’re sad, so what should we do about that?” Give them choices so they have control over how they will manage their feelings as they will likely feel a loss of control over what is happening between you and your spouse.
Question: Should each parent try talking to the kids?
No, it is imperative to have both parents present when you talk to your children about your divorce.
Question: Why is it so important to project a calm, reasoned and measured attitude when talking to your children?
Your attitude is everything and if you come off as anxious, stressed and upset, it is likely your children will sense that and even mimic it. David Code, who wrote the book Kids Pick Up On Everything: How Parental Stress Is Toxic To Kids, has made a career of pulling together the evidence from a handful of labs around the world, which have suggested that parents’ levels of chronic stress can seriously impact a child’s development.
Question: What kinds of messages do kids need to hear from their divorcing parents?
1) "This is not your fault." This is usually an issue for children 7 years old and under. During their early learning years most of their unpleasant experiences were their fault. "Don't touch" Don't hit" etc. They were learning acceptable behavior and the focus was on what they had done wrong. So it is natural to for them to blame themselves for the turmoil in the family.
2) You are and always will be safe. Children crave reassurance and even if the word divorce is something they’re familiar with, they need to understand that it won’t place them in any kind of unsafe situation. Especially with young children, change must be approached gingerly as they are very used to “the way things are”
3) We will always be your parents even if we’re not married to each other.
4) We will always love you even though the love between us has changed. It may help to distinguish between the kind of love between partners and the love children have for their parents.
5) We are still a family beyond divorce. At the Divorce Resource Centre of Colorado, we recognize that while the marriage ends, the family bonds remain. Divorcing couples trust us to create a post divorce reality that respects these wishes.
6) We’re working together to move through the divorce process and you can talk to both of us.
You might need to reiterate the themes more than once, especially for younger children.
Question: What do I tell them when they start asking 100 questions?
You don't need to know all the details about who will spend which days with which parent, it’s not about digging into the details at this point, it is about making sure they understand the bigger picture.
Even with older children, you still want to let them know you hear them and that their feelings are valid.
It’s not just what you say, but how you say it.
Remember that co-parenting will last for a lifetime.
Question: Does the how and when depend on the child’s age?
Yes. A great resource that is age specific can be found here.
Question: Ok, I think I have a handle on what to say and how to say it, but when is the best time to tell the child(ren) that we’re getting divorced?
When you are both on the same page about doing what’s best for the children. You can’t tell them if one spouse doesn’t have respect for the other spouse’s role as parent. If one spouse is angry and unreasonable, the two of you should work on these issues before you can have the conversation with your children.
Peaceful solutions are possible when you and your soon to be ex-spouse agree to put your personal feelings aside. This is tricky territory for parents and we recommend seeking a divorce coach like Rosalind Sedacca or the Divorce Resource Centre’s divorce coach, Suzanne Chambers Yates to help you approach these emotional issues with the clarity and focus they demand. To discuss divorce coaching services, or mediation in general, call 303-468-5626 or schedule a complimentary consultation.
Forms include: Asset Worksheet, Household Goods Inventory, Financial Checkup, Priorities Worksheet and Mandatory Financial Disclosures.