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It's not You, it's Us: How to Tell Your Children You're Divorcing

Author Donna Ferber shares the following wisdom about how to tell your children that their parents are divorcing. These are Ferber's tips for telling the children about impending divorce:

  1. If possible, both parents should be present. This illustrates to the children that you will still be able to co-parent.
  2. Tell them close to the time that one of the parents is planning to move out. Telling them months in advance does not "prepare them." It only makes them anxious and worried.
  3. Tell them calmly.
  4. Keep it age appropriate. Do not give them information that is over their heads.
  5. Keep it short and sweet.
  6. Explain that divorce is between the adults and that parents do not divorce children.
  7. Ask for questions. Answer honestly with age-appropriate information. Do not be afraid to say, "I don't know the answer to that. When I do, I will tell you."
  8. You do not tell your children about marital issues, like your sex life or money problems. The details of the divorce should also stay between the two of you.
  9. Explain to your children the ways the divorce will affect them directly, i.e., will you move, will they stay in the same schools, and so on.
  10. Remember that divorce begins for the children the day the living situation changes. On the day one parent leaves, that is the day their parents' marriage ends.
  11. Let your children cry if they need to. It is important to let them grieve.
  12. Reassure them that you will not leave them, even if you are angry (which is some children's biggest fear).
  13. Reassure them that you will always love them.
  14. Notify their teachers, scout leaders, karate instructor and anyone else who has contact with your child, so they can be aware of and sensitive to your child's needs.
  15. Be prepared for any and all reactions from, "that's too bad, what's for dinner?" to crying and yelling. Stay calm and be reassuring.
  16. Remember your children will be as healthy about this as you are. They will take their cues from you.
  17. Continue to talk with your children about the process. One conversation is only the introduction. As uncomfortable as this may be for you, your children need your guidance and support.

I would add the following:

This conversation should be planned for a time when there will be no intrusions. Don't read the bullet-points. Have a conversation (whatever is appropriate for the child's age).

Try your best not to discuss the divorce with your children without the other parent being present. You don't want to be accused of bad-mouthing your spouse (a common theme in divorce litigation). Remember, a divorce is adult-stuff. Your children need not (and ought not) know all of the gory details. And they should NOT be used to spy on the other parent.

Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC, is a licensed psychotherapist in Connecticut and the author of From Ex-Wife to Exceptional Life: A Woman's Journey through Divorce, which won an Honorable Mention Award by the Independent Publishers Association. To read more about the author and her work, please visit www.donnaferber.com

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