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Talking to your children about divorce is never easy. Most spouses are going through an emotionally challenging time and want to minimize the stress on children. Achieving this is possible with care and attention throughout the divorce process, beginning with the first conversations you have as a family about your separation.
One way to make those chats as supportive as possible is to use specific language. Certain words are often more nurturing to children, and send the right message at a time when kids are particularly vulnerable. Encouraging words can help ease the transition for your entire family.
Even if you and your spouse disagree on many issues, it helps if you can be united when speaking to your children. Breaking the news about separation or divorce should be done by both spouses together, with as little hint about animosity or anger as possible. Using “we” reinforces this idea of stability to your children, who are just learning of your intent to live apart.
Some parents flood their children with information in the first conversation, in an attempt to proactively answer all of their questions. This can overwhelm the child, who may or may not have had an inkling of what was to come. Start with the basics. Remaining open to questions after you tell your children is important, as that’s when you will have a better idea of how they perceive the situation.
Tell the children how the change in the family will affect their lives. For example, when providing details, say things like, “we’ll be taking care of you together, but we will live in two different homes.”, “Our change in family life won’t affect your school or your friends.” Before the conversation, make a list of what your children currently enjoy doing and how that might change after the divorce.
Often children think they may be responsible for their parents’ divorce. Telling them that they did nothing wrong is important, so they can feel somewhat at ease with what’s happening. Over time, they will probably have more questions about why you and your spouse have chosen to end your marriage, and you may want to listen closely to their worries about the root causes of the event.
For many parents, the main objective is to help their children feel secure in the face of divorce. Give them a plan as early as possible, so they know their parents still love them and will look after their needs. Use phrasing like, “your father and I,” “your mother and I,” and “our family,” when describing how things will unfold. You can also say, “we will both always be here for you,” to reinforce this idea of consistency.
Most children will remember this conversation for many years to come. It can set up the emotional road for both the children and the parents, as they embark on divorce or separation. Every parent makes mistakes, but by taking care with what you say and how you communicate with your spouse, you can support your children over the long term. Stay open and supportive when talking and listening to all members of your family.
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