The do’s and don’ts of explaining divorce to small children

Explaining-Divorce-to-Small-ChildrenIf you plan on divorcing your spouse and you have small children, you are likely pondering just how you should go about breaking the news to them. A child’s world revolves around his parents and the family unit. The news of a divorce can be quite crushing. Yet the manner in which you communicate the news will go a long way in determining how your child reacts. It’s an event that could shape him for years to come. So choose your words carefully. The manner in which you approach the issue will play a significant role in how your children bounce back from this sad news.

The Do’s of Explaining Divorce to Small Children

When you are preparing for this conversation, conjure up an explanation that is “kid-friendly”. This means that you should speak with an empathetic tone but you don’t have to be brutally honest like you might be when hanging out with your buddies at the bar. Your child deserves an honest explanation but you can explain the issue more in-depth when he is older.

Cut to The Chase

Get right to the point instead of beating around the bush. A long-winded explanation will only prolong your child’s pain and anxiety. You don’t have to use sweeping generalizations but you should prepare a few brief statements to explain why the divorce is happening. Saying, “We can’t get along like we used to,” or “Mom and dad need some time apart” will get to the point in simple terms.

Reinforce Your Love

After you’ve broken the bad news to your child, it is critical that you tell him that you love him. Communicate that while you can’t get along with his mom or dad, you will always get along with him. If he knows that you’ll always be available to help him with his homework and teach him how to do certain things, he’ll be less nervous about the pending split.

Keep Your Child’s Specific Age in Mind

If your children are young (6 years old and younger), telling them about your divorce will be quite the challenge. Children this young typically don’t take the news very well. Many go on to blame themselves and believe that they played a role in their parents’ separation. It is critical that you explain to your small child that he has nothing to do with mom and dad’s separation. Explain that mom and dad have grown apart. It is imperative that you explain that you still love your child but you need to be apart from your spouse.

You don’t have to use the word “divorce” with your young child. Sometimes, kids, this young haven’t learned what the word means and they’ll be confused. Say something like, “Mom and dad will be living apart from each other but you’ll still see me on a regular basis”. This will help to console your small child and help him better understand what is happening in general terms. The underlying message should be that you still love your child and that you’ll always love him in the future.

If your child is a bit older (6 to 8 years old), he’ll likely know what the word “divorce” means. He has probably heard the word at school or from TV and the Internet. He’ll likely know what a divorce entails. You’ll still have to explain why you are separating from his mother or father. This doesn’t mean that you have to give him every single detail. Be straightforward and communicate as much of the truth as possible. Hopefully, he’ll understand that adults who spend this much time together sometimes grow apart.

Reinforce Your Love

What matters the most is that you explain that your love for your child is everlasting. You should also go out of your way to explain when you’ll be able to visit with your child in case you don’t have sole custody. If you have a matrimonial settlement agreement that explains your visitation rights, use it to prepare a written schedule before you speak with your child about the divorce. This way, you’ll be able to let him know when you can spend time together in the future so that he has something to look forward to.

Explain That a Transition Period Is Coming

Once you’ve broken the news to your child, transition into what will change. Explain that while some things will be different, others will stay the same. Tell him that you’ll handle each change as it arises and always ask for his feedback about how he feels about these transitions. Your child has every right to know all the details about how his life will be changing.

The Don’ts of Explaining Divorce to Small Children

Young children will often act out emotionally in response to the news of a divorce. So expect the worst. Don’t fall into the temptation to lie about the separation to better console your children. You should always remain honest. No matter what, you must explain that you are the problem. Don’t let your child believe that he is the cause of the divorce.

Don’t Jump Right Into The Conversation Without Preparing

Your child will likely ask you some very tough questions, so prepare ahead of time. Try to imagine what your child will ask you before you actually sit down to speak with him. With this game plan in place, you’ll be better prepared to answer his questions and you won’t feel as nervous about speaking with him about this sensitive subject.

Don’t Assign Blame

Also, don’t blame your spouse for the divorce. While you might sincerely believe that your spouse is the cause of the divorce, your child should not know this. You don’t want him to hold a grudge against your soon-to-be ex-wife or ex-husband. It will just make the family dynamic that much more unstable.

Don’t Jump Into Specifics Right Away

Oftentimes, divorce has a bigger impact on the children than the parents. Tell him how his living arrangements, activities and school might change in superficial terms. You don’t have to delve into the specifics of these changes during the initial conversation unless your child asks for all of the details. By letting him know what will change, your child will be able to brace himself for this transition period.


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Brian Galbraith

Brian Galbraith is the owner and founder of Galbraith Family Law Professional Corporation. Brian is known in the legal community for his commitment to efficiently practicing family law using technology and streamlining the divorce processes.

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