How to talk to your child when you’re planning a divorce

Divorce is hard on children. Below the age of three they won’t usually understand it. A five year old is usually able to better comprehend what a divorce means. Either because they have a friend who has had a divorce or they have seen either of you fight/cry in front of them, once too often or can understand the idea of a separation.

By 5, kids are already in school and need to know how the divorce will change their life. That’s usually the only aspect that interests them.

They will want to know:

1. Where they will live?

2. Who will they live with?

3. Who will drop and pick them up from school/classes?

4. Who will make their food and whether they will ensure their favourites are included?

5. Who will help them get ready for school and take care of their toys/clothes?

6. Will they be around their friends? Play dates etc.

In a way kids keep it simple.

However, that does not mean they are not scared or shaken. They just don’t know to verbalise their emotions. They display their anger and confusion in their behaviour. Most parents who have disclosed their divorce plans to their kids report strange behaviour in their child. Either too they are clingy or deliberately refuse to make friends, do more mischief than usual, or act strange and moody. These are all the outwardly signs of the emotional stress they are undergoing. Often they deny having feelings about it.

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Luckily are resilient creatures and if you speak to them right, they are likely to come out of this experience relatively whole.  So the way you break the news to them, carry-on that dialogue through the divorce and after it, will make all the difference in the end. For children, they need seamless blending of their everyday chores and routine to help ease their pent up emotions.

1. Reveal the news only when you are certain of heading down the divorce path

This is very important as children don’t understand half measures. “How would you feel if mama and papa get a divorce?” is hard for children to process.

2. Do it together, so that there is no blame

When parents sit across and reveal their plans, child/children see it as a mutual decision and understand that it’s not a simple squabble (as they might have seen/heard before.) This is important for them to not apportion blame on any one parent as the reason for the separation.  

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3. Tell them that it is not their fault

This is very important. Especially if the child had recently had a setback with regards to behaviour or grades, it is important to reassure the child that they are in no way responsible for the divorce.

4. Choose simple direct words

Instead of going on about the arguments/ facts that led you to come to the conclusion of divorce, just come directly to the point. Say that you want to live separately because it is best for the family. Explain where you will live where the other spouse will live and assure them that they can see them often enough.

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5. Don’t abuse each other, in front of the kids.

No matter what the temptation, don’t call your spouse names in front of the kids at this delicate juncture. “You know that your father is a selfish man, so he will move out.” This is the kind of conversation that makes innocent children appropriate the ‘selfish’ title for themselves. Unconsciously they assume they are products of ‘lazy’or ‘horrible’ people. So, don’t abuse the spouse.

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What has your experience been like? Write in and tell us.

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