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How to tell your children about separation or divorce

19 May 2021 |

If you have made the decision to separate, you are probably wondering how to tell your children about the separation or divorce.

We have teamed up with experienced divorce consultant Rhiannon Ford to bring you an essential guide to how and when to explain the situation to your children.

Rhiannon explains that telling the children about the divorce is upsetting for everyone and often riddled with feelings of guilt. It is important to take the time to prepare how and when you are going to talk to them. Research tells us that it is the parents’ approach to the divorce and not the divorce itself that has the biggest impact on the children’s ability to cope. Take a step back and look at the big picture. Set a good example to your children by taking care with how you deal with the divorce. Always bear in mind that the children are likely to remember this conversation for the rest of their lives, so take time to approach it in the right way for them. Remember to put their needs first, however much you are hurting yourself.

Plan where and how you will tell them

When it comes to where and how, careful planning is crucial. Emotions may be very raw between you and your partner at the moment but it’s important to put your personal feelings aside. When you have children, divorce does not end the relationship with your spouse. You will continue to be parents to your children and will need to find a way to work together for their sake. Discuss with your spouse how and when you are going to talk to the children about the separation and be quite specific about what is going to be said.

Make sure you’re on the same page

Agree in advance with your spouse exactly what the children will be told AND what detail they won’t be told. Only give them facts and information about the separation that they really need to know. It will be a lot for them to take in and could come as a shock. There will be opportunity for more discussions at a later date. It is also important to talk to the children in a manner appropriate for their particular age. If you have children of different ages, it is best to use language appropriate for the youngest child (you can be assured that the older children will understand what you are saying).

Be a united force

If possible it is better for you and your spouse to talk to the children together. Reassure the children that this is a joint decision made by their parents (even if it wasn’t). This can be very challenging for the person who didn’t want the divorce to take place but it is in the best interests of the children for their parents not to be in conflict about the decision to divorce. It is important for you to approach the conversation (and decision) as a united force. This provides reassurance for the children that this is an adult decision.

Do not assign blame

Try not to place blame for the separation on either parent. This will be unsettling for the children. They will feel uncomfortable that someone they love is being criticised. It is important that they do not feel their loyalties torn between their parents. This could have a very negative impact on their ability to cope with the divorce and their future relationship with either parent. The children should be encouraged to continue to love both parents.

Reassurance is key

It is important to provide reassurance to the children throughout the conversation that this is a “grown-up” decision and is not their fault. Rhiannon recommends that during the conversation, you concentrate on the ways in which the children’s lives will remain the same- e.g. friends, school, football training etc. Tell the children that this decision is about change not blame and change is not something to be frightened of. Reassure them that their parents are going to work together to make sure everything will be okay.

Tell them how much you love them

It goes without saying that as a good parent you will do your best to reassure your children you love them. This is important now more than ever, whatever the age of the children. Tell them how much you both really love them and how this will NEVER change. Just because their parents are no longer living together it does not affect how you both feel about them. Their parents will always love you. Make sure you spend quality time with the children and encourage them to open up about how they feel about the changes taking place in their life. Let them know that their feelings matter and that you want to support them as much as possible.

Try not to let angry or aggressive emotions show in front of your children as this will be upsetting and confusing for them. The most important thing is to make sure your children feel loved and secure.

Look after their emotional wellbeing

Let the children know that they can talk to either of you about how they are feeling and ask any questions they have without risk of upsetting you.

Rhiannon explains that they may not have many questions at first as they might need time to process their thoughts and feelings about the news. It is a good idea to tell the children that they can come to either one of you with any questions or concerns at any time. As a parent you are likely to want to always have the answer to any of your child’s questions. Be careful with that in this situation. Giving yourself time to think about how you wish to answer important questions is a good idea. Don’t feel rushed to answer straight away if you feel you need to think it through and/or speak to your partner to make a joint decision about how to answer the particular question. Your children will rely on what you tell them. Try not to guess the answers to their questions as you might realise at a later date that your answer wasn’t correct. If you don’t know the answer, reassure them as much as possible that you will tell them as soon as you know.

She also suggests that where appropriate, other significant adults in their lives could be asked to look out for any changes in behaviour or signs of upset or distress about your separation. Perhaps a teacher, sports coach or favourite aunt for example.

Make sure you also have a support network, at least someone you can talk to, to help you manage your emotions and mental wellbeing during this difficult time.

There are lots of books and resources now available to help children of different ages to process their feelings about their parents’ separation. Getting good support for the children, will help you as the parents to feel better about how the children are coping.

Seek specialist advice

Engaging with specialist advisors early on is essential and will ensure you feel supported and in control of the situation, have an understanding of where you stand legally, and know what your options are for moving forward.

If you would like to discuss your situation with one of our expert family law solicitors, please call 0117 906 9400 or email hello@gl.law Alternatively you can start online with our simple, secure and confidential step-by-step guide.

Rhiannon Ford is a divorce coach and consultant, providing practical help and emotional support to people struggling with divorce or separation; empowering them throughout the legal journey. To find out more about Rhiannon’s divorce consultancy services, contact her via her website – www.rhiannonford.co.uk or call her on 07970 231744.

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.

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