TALKING WITH YOUR KIDS
Kids often get very quiet and withdrawn as the impact of divorce and separation upends their lives. Every family member is dealing with trauma. Kids are unaware of everything you are going through, and you may be uncertain about how to discuss things with them. Parents report that the thing they fear the most about divorce is telling their kids. Fostering open communication is a key aspect of helping them deal with your divorce and separation. In the absence of information all of us tend to assume the worst. Here we’ve distilled advice and techniques about how to communicate , and how to stay engaged as things change. It may seem counterintuitive to do things like setting expectations and rules during the hardships of divorce, but structure offers the opportunity to thrive for children especially. Write out your plans together with your child, whether for the week or month ahead, or even what you are going to do that day. This helps demonstrate to them your accountability and over time creating this “new normal” provides stability for everyone.
When you first broach the topic of separation and divorce with your kids, it’s important, if possible to include your co-parent, presenting a united front for your children. Remember, that you are probably far ahead of your kids in thinking about what separation and divorce means for everyone. Just hearing for the first time that the divorce is happening will be traumatic for them. Keep that first conversation as simple as possible. Retaining information when dealing with traumatic news is difficult for both adults and children. Allow for silence, allow for emotion and do your best not to take signs of fear, anger, and sadness too personally, avoid jumping ahead to “to do” lists, and above all avoid blame and justification of your decisions as this makes the emotional turmoil more intense for kids. While it’s important to emphasize that separation/divorce isn’t the end of your family, realize that your actions and tone in the coming weeks and months ahead will matter far more than your words in the moment.. How you talk to your kids about these changes is dependent on their age and ability to understand. For tips on tailoring your conversation based on your children’s ages we recommend taking a look at “How to talk with your kids, friends and family”, as well as “Talking with your older children about divorce”.
PROMPTS & RESOURCES
Having a plan for multiple conversations with your children is important. Use appropriate words, take the time to define new words for the kids, and be aware of how much you’re expecting them to grapple with at any one time. Take a conscious approach to the language you use about and with your ex-spouse. We recommend reviewing and using:
If appropriate allow your children to write out their thoughts for you to read. It may be easier for them to share thoughts and emotions by writing them down. You can use this template to get your children to write down their thoughts and emotions.
Resources for Connecting with Your Kids
Taking care of your kids on your own after sharing responsibility with a partner can be intimidating – there is so much to know about how to engage, how to care for them, their schedules, and more. Kids 24/7’s guide to getting ready for divorce has a section devoted to all of this information, which can help guide you through the big pieces you need to be aware of and provide resources for the areas where you feel you need support.