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Children and Divorce: When Should We Tell Our Children Divorce is Imminent?

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Question: Children and Divorce: When Should We Tell Our Children Divorce is Imminent?
Answer: When it comes to divorce, children need first and foremost to know that they are loved. They also need to be told, from the very beginning, that they did not cause the divorce in any way. In order to make sure that these messages are both conveyed and understood, it's important to talk with your children about your divorce at a time when you can freely talk together about what is happening, and when the children will have some time to process the information.

When to Tell the Children About Your Divorce

  • Tell Your Children About Your Divorce When You Are Both Present - It's important for your children to hear about your divorce from both of you at the same time.

  • Communicate a Unified Message - Before you meet with your children, take the time to sit down together and talk about exactly what you are going to say.

  • Tell All of Your Children at the Same Time - If your children are different ages, and you want to give your older children more information than you share with your younger children, make a general announcement with everyone present, and keep the details simple. Then, make time to follow up with your older children and allow them to ask questions that you might not want to discuss in front of the younger ones.

  • Have the Conversation in Person - Avoid telling your children over the phone. If your older kids are away at school, wait to make the announcement when they are home for a weekend, if at all possible.

  • Respect Your Children's Need to Process the Information - Ideally, you'll want to avoid telling the children about the divorce on a school night. In addition, avoid telling them late in the evening. They will likely need some time to process the information and ask a few follow-up questions before going to bed.

Additional Suggestions About Announcing Your Divorce to the Children

  • Make it Clear that You Are Both Still Their Parents - Be ready to communicate a basic residential and visitation schedule, and reassure your children that you will both remain an active part of their lives.

  • Be Intentional About the Language You Use - Use phrases like, "Mommy and Daddy both love you very much," "We are still a family," and "Mommy and Daddy will always love you and will always be your parents."

  • It's Okay to Show Some Emotion - It's okay for your children to see that you are sad. However, intense or uncontrolled emotions can be frightening to young children, so you'll want to do your best to remain in control and use soft, calm, loving voices.

When you choose to announce your divorce to your children is a personal decision, and it depends on many different factors. No matter how much planning you put into it, it will never go exactly "as planned." However, taking the time to think through how you will share the information, and how you can frame it in a way that lets your children know that they are loved and will continue to be cared for by both parents, will going a long way toward providing some much-needed reassurance and comfort.

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