Opening up the conversation – talking about the divorce with your children

Talking to your children about the fact that their parents are getting divorced is, of course, a really challenging position to be in. Whether it be breaking the news to them at first, or continuing to speak to them about how their life is going to change as a result, it doesn’t get any easier or less nerve-wrecking over time.

It is absolutely vital, however, that both you and your partner help your child feel comfortable enough to open up and talk about the situation with you.

In this blog, I will be talking about some ways in which you can make this conversation easier for both yourself and your child, helping them understand the situation in full, while reassuring them that everything is going to be ok.

Beginning the conversation

Preparing yourself for the first few conversations where you tell your child about the divorce is bound to be a very daunting part of the process. While you have to stay realistic – and know that it is inevitable that your child will be upset – there are lots of ways that you can make sure the topic is approached in the best way.

With this in mind, here are a few ideas that you can use to help make these first conversations easier.

Before any of the changes to your routines or living arrangements have taken place, you and your ex should plan how you are going to talk to your child together.

The questions that you can expect to be asked by your child could include:

  • Who will I live with now? Will I move house?
  • Will I have to go to another school?
  • Where will each of you live?
  • Can I still get to see my friends?
  • Can I still take part in my hobbies? Where will we go on holiday now?

The best thing that you can do is prepare yourself for these questions, and work with the child’s other parent to prepare answers for these in advance. As much as possible, (but without going into too much detail), try to tell your child the truth. Think about what would be the best way to answer these questions – although it’s not always easy to be completely honest, make sure you keep the conversation with your child truthful, telling them everything that they need to know and can expect to change. Acknowledge that, yes, some things will change, but a lot of other key parts of their daily routine will stay the same.

As part of this, make sure that your child knows that you understand how they’re feeling, reassure them that you love them (reiterate to them that parents and children don’t get divorced, and will always love each other) and tell them that both parents will support them through this. At the same time, however, make the finality of this new situation and your decision to divorce clear to your child.

Continuing the conversations

The conversation doesn’t stop here. Once you have taken these key first steps towards helping your child understand what is happening, it is vital that you have follow-up conversations to continue to keep them informed and help them understand the changes that they can expect over the course of the next few weeks and months. These don’t have to be super formal, but it is nonetheless important that they happen.

Remember that this is, particularly for younger children, going to cause a huge upheaval to their lives, in a way that is incredibly stressful for them. Talking about it with them will significantly ease this anxious period for them.

Trying to get your child to open up and speak about all of the different things that they may be feeling is bound to be difficult at times. So one of our top tips to getting this conversation going is having it take place after an activity that you enjoy doing together. This could be baking, crafts, making a music playlist together and then having a dance or a sing-a-long, gardening or going on a walk together. By having conversation amidst a relaxed, happy environment, you can help make it a lot easier for your child to comfortably open up to you about their feelings.

Once you do start this conversation with your child, they might come back to you with a few different things that you may not expect to hear. These are a few of the way that you can mitigate your child’s feelings:

  • They want you to get back together – it’s common and natural for a child to hope that their parents will get back together. Your child might even believe that they have the ability to achieve this themselves by promising to be good or better behaved, or orchestrating scenarios where you and your ex have to be in contact. Make sure that your child knows that there is nothing that they can do to change this situation and that is not their fault or their responsibility to fix.
  • Be respectful of your spouse when you are explaining the divorce. Also explain the situation to your child in a way that gives an age-appropriate level of detail and information.
  • Keep the information you give as truthful as possible. This means that if you aren’t ready to provide answers to certain questions yet (or you don’t know the answer yourself), simply tell them that you’re still figuring that bit out at the moment, but you will tell them as soon as you know.
  • Be a good listener – help them to articulate their feelings and process them by discussing them with you. When they are talking to you, give your child your absolute full attention. Remember, listening is as good, if not better, as talking to them. When you are listening to your child, hear what they have to say, without trying to immediately fix, change, or dismiss their feelings. This is vital for their confidence and identify their feelings for themselves, to ultimately develop into emotionally mature adults.
  • Continually reassure them that it’s not their fault, and that both parents will always love them. Nothing will change there.

One thing that it is absolutely key that you do, in order to ensure that you are helping your child’s grieving process is to ensure you and your ex are as civil as possible in front of your child:

  • Keep the messages that you are providing your child consistent from the both of you. Do not place blame or hold the other parent responsible. This would be confusing and upsetting for your child, and make them feel torn between the two of you.
  • Restrict any negativity, anger or blame that you feel towards your ex and only express these feelings in private counselling sessions or conversations with your friends and family that there is no chance of your child overhearing.
  • Above all, while you can’t pretend that things are all rosy, keep any visible conflict, arguments, or legal discussions between you and your partner well away from your child.

You may well find this challenging so, if at any point you find that you are struggling to agree with each other, speak to a neutral third party like a counselor or helpline, who will be able to help you two decide how best to communicate these matters to your child.

It’s so important that you make these discussions about the divorce part of the long-term, ongoing healing process for your child. Be patient with them, and let them have these conversations with you in an open, non-judgemental, calm and reassuring environment.

Article Created By Josephine Walbank

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