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Last week, we ran an article about what you absolutely should not say to your children during a divorce. That advice, of course, has another side: There are things that you should tell your children during a divorce. Divorce is a time of confusion for your children, they are upset and they need your help to get through this difficult phase of their life, no matter how hurt or desperate you are.
Read also: 10 Things Not To Say To Your Children During A Divorce
Be realistic: It will be a difficult conversation and you need to be prepared as much as you can. Make sure your children are the first ones to know about the separation. They should not learn about it from others. When you first talk to them, set enough time aside and create a calm setting, with both parents being present. You need to limit your discussion to the most pressing topics. Do not overwhelm them with information.
Follow a certain set of ground rules during your conversation: Plan ahead with your spouse. Be truthful, but avoid inappropriate topics such as child custody or child support payments. Be respectful to the other parent, keep your emotions in check and do not yell. Be sensitive to how they react to the news. Listen to your children and hear their fears and concerns. Welcome their questions. Plan more discussions with your children.
Depending on where you are in the divorce proceedings, there are a few important things you need to tell your children, and reemphasize to them during the divorce and even later on.
1. Mom and dad are separating because …
In some cases, this may be a very easy topic to talk about, in others it may be very difficult. Be aware that many children of divorce are unhappy about the fact that they were never told a reason for the divorce of their parents. Be truthful, but, of course, you cannot mention reasons such as adultery. In such a case you will need to find a different, more general reason such as that you have differences you cannot agree on. You may be angry at your (ex-) spouse for his/her infidelity, but this is not the right time to tell your children. They will find out themselves when they are older. It is also important to remember that you do not have to mention that you and your partner do not love each other anymore.
2. Mom and dad can be better parents when they live in different homes.
This is closely connected to the explanation of why you are separating and it will introduce your children to the upcoming change that there will be two different homes. You can elaborate on this topic further down the road and explain that there will be rules that are the same in mom’s and dad’s house, but some may be different.
3. Things are going to be different, but we will work as a team to make them ok.
Typically, the advice is to tell your children that “everything will be ok”. We do not agree with this phrase, simply because you cannot promise your children that everything will be ok. The fact is that not everything will be ok and your children will be very aware of the promises you make. There will be change. There will be different homes. There will be problems. Instead of telling them that things will be just ok, make sure that your children know that you are in control and they do not have to worry. Never make any promises you cannot keep!
4. It is not your fault.
Children often blame themselves for a divorce and they believe it is something that happened because of their actions. It is critical that you reassure them that the divorce is not their fault.
5. Mom and dad will not marry each other again.
Your children will ask you whether you and your spouse will remarry. Remove the illusion that mom and dad will get together and marry again. Your children need to understand that the divorce is final and they are moving into a new phase of their life. You need to remove confusion and uncertainty. Create an environment they can understand and provide stability as quickly as possible. You may feel that it is easier to tell your children that mom and dad may get back together at some point again, but you have to be honest to yourself that this is rather unlikely. Remember: Do not make promises you cannot keep.
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