The Do's and Dont's of telling your kids about Separation.
The decision to separate was not an easy decision to make, and perhaps it was not your decision. Many concerns have crossed your mind including how to ensure that your children suffer as little as possible. How you tell your children about the impending family changes will set the tone for their understanding and experience of the separation.
There is no one right way to “break the news” of separation/divorce to children. There are some poor things to say, but the right thing to say will depend on the age of your children, your ability to be sensitive to their reactions, and the reasons for the separation.
There are many books and essays on how to talk to children about divorce and separation and I have referenced some of my favourites at the end of this post. Here you will find my best practices guide with easy reminders and tips for making the best of this difficult situation.
Good Things To Do:
Consider the timing of sharing the news – plan for a quiet opportunity that is not rushed and where you can devote additional time to reassuring your children.
Have both parents participate in the “telling”. You should practice what you will say ahead of time and agree that the tone is supportive of the children.
Tell all your children together, there should be no secrets between children and the experience should be shared.
Recognize what will be the same, and what will be different.
Explain that mixed feelings are normal. For example, children may be sad about changing houses but relieved that there will be no more fighting.
Comfort your children without promising “everything will be alright”. Allow them time to express themselves without interruption. Accept their tears, anger, or worry.
Be calm but recognize the real changes that are happening. Reassure your child or adolescent that changes may be hard, but they can adjust and will have your support.
Answer their questions when you can, and if you don’t know the answer tell your children that you will work out the answer. However, if the question seeks to blame one parent, read the section on Don’ts.
Keep it age-appropriate, and share only things you want your child to tell others.
Tell their teacher or other important adults like a sports coach or minister, but keep blame out of this conversation
Things to Avoid or “The Don’ts”
Don’t share negative details about the other parent, your job is to let your child or adolescent love each of you without guilt.
Don’t criticize the other parent, offer judgments or belittle the other parent in any way.
Avoid putting your child or adolescent in a loyalty bind, they should not have to choose between their parents.
Don’t assume you know what they are feeling, ask them and ask them again later.
Older kids including young adults need help too. Here are some ways older children may react and things you should keep in mind.
Do’s in Talking to Teenagers and Young Adults:
They may feel they have they been living a lie, they can be judgmental and angry. Anger is often a way for youth to express deep hurt and disappointment. If your youth is angry, consider they may also be experiencing other feelings.
If you need to, apologize
Young people feel things very intensely. Their feelings may be directed at you, stay calm and non-defensive.
Listen more than you speak.
Take their worries seriously.
Pull in resources, like grandparents or aunts and uncles who can be supportive and neutral.
Don’t overestimate their maturity. Your children are not your friends, they need you to be the grown-up and provide reassurance, guidance, and hope.
Here are a few other readings for more information.