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When and how should I tell my children about my divorce?

Part of your job as a parent is to protect your children from harm, which is why telling your kids about your divorce can seem counterintuitive. You know the knowledge of your divorce may be emotionally painful for your children, so it is natural to want to avoid telling them about it.

However, in most situations it is best to tell your children about it sooner rather than later. The exact timing for this conversation may vary based on your situation, but it is often best to tell your children about your divorce before a parent moves out, a parenting plan takes effect or someone else tells your children about your divorce.

Pick an appropriate time to talk

Your children will probably always remember the moment they were told about your divorce. This is why it can be beneficial to choose your timing and setting carefully.

Try to set up this conversation so it can occur when:

  • You and your spouse can both participate
  • You are completely sure the divorce is going to happen
  • All your kids are present
  • You have some understanding of what the parenting plan will be

Try to avoid telling kids around times of celebration, such as holidays or birthdays. Also, try to avoid having the discussion in a public place or telling kids right before an obligation like bedtime or school.

Explain the situation in a way your children can understand

When the time is right, you and your spouse should share the news in a simple, straightforward way that does not assign blame to either spouse. Make sure your children understand that the divorce is not any child’s fault either.

You might also focus on what types of changes may occur because of divorce. Try to address where the children will live, where parents will live and when children will see each parent. Reassure your children that both parent’s still love them.

Keep in mind that children of different ages will have varying abilities to understand what divorce means. Young children may not understand the concept of divorce and may struggle to identify or express how they are feeling. Older children may have a better understanding of divorce and may respond with sadness, anger or even relief. Be prepared for a variety of reactions, and be willing to answer questions that may come right away or as time goes on.

Many parents worry that their children will be negatively affected by their divorce. However, studies have shown that the negative effects children initially experience do not last. For most kids, negative feelings, like anxiety and anger, usually disappear after about two years, and most children of divorce do well in the long term.

Telling your children about your divorce may be one of the most difficult conversations you have with your kids, and knowing that they will eventually recover from the news will probably not make the conversation any easier. However, the way in which you break the news can help your kids better understand the changes they will experience and cope with those changes once they occur.

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