- This is something we decided together after trying to make things better for a long time.
- This is an adult decision. It is not because of anything you said or did.
- We are still a family, we are just changing. This is a good time to explain what will change and what will stay the same (see Cover the Basics below)
- We both still, and always will, love you very much. We will always be your mom and dad and you will always be our son/daughter.
- You will continue having a strong and loving relationship with each of us.
- You may be having a lot of different feelings and that’s normal. We know you are brave and strong, but we will help you any time you don’t feel that way.
- You may hope that we change our minds one day, but we know that this is the best decision for all of us.
- We will always do your best to help you get in touch with whomever you are not with if you miss him/her (call, text, Facetime, etc.)
Cover the basics
- Decide what you will share about what will change and what will stay the same so there are clear answers to any questions your child might have. It does not need to be extremely detailed.
- Focus on the basics such as who will stay in the house and who will move if that’s the case. Highlight what will stay the same, eg, home, bedroom, school, activities, friends, etc.
- Prior to the discussion, inform your child’s teacher or caregiver to help prepare him or her for any changes in mood or behavior. Let them know it’s best not to bring it up, and to follow your child’s lead instead.
- As only you, as Mom and Dad can do, listen, acknowledge feelings, validate them whenever possible, and be understanding and empathetic in order to provide as much comfort and security as possible during a time of so much change.
- Allow questions. Do your best to answer any questions your child has, but don’t feel compelled to be brilliant on the spot. If your child asks a question you’re not sure how to answer, it’s ok to let him or her know you need to think about it because you care so much about answering it fully and well.
- When appropriate, admit that this will be a big change for everyone, but that you both feel confident it is what’s best for everyone. And that those big change feelings won’t last forever.
- Read Bear’s Changing Family together and ask questions about how Bear might be feeling during the story. Ask your child what Bear did when he felt sad or had questions so he or she knows to do the same.
- As you know, divorce is a process and not a singular event, so it’s important to provide ongoing stability. Layer on extra TLC, plan special time together and make sure to check in now and then. Make sure your child knows you and your co-parent are always available.
- We loved these tips from NDSU:
- Discuss upcoming changes or schedules before they occur and show young children in concrete ways what will happen. Make a calendar with X’s on days with mom and O’s on days with dad so they can see … how many days until they see the other parent. Young children struggle more if they are uncertain of what will happen next.
- Read books or watch shows that involve dealing with divorce or related issues together… (make sure they are age-appropriate). Ask children what they think about the story or characters and how they respond. Compare your own situation.
- Give young children tangible items to provide them security. Let them have a picture of the other parent in their bedroom, a stuffed animal (we had to add: like Bear!) that they take with them between locations… Young children need to have things of their own that they do not “lose” every time they go with another parent.
- Watch for any signs of worry or distress and address them quickly. Involve a professional if you feel that is what’s best for your family.
- Finally, there’s a reason we are told to put on our own oxygen mask before helping our child during those in-flight safety presentations. Take extra care of yourself in every way you can. Find the time to do anything that makes you feel good, happy, present and/or hopeful. There are so many great resources out there for self-care ideas. Remind yourself, too, how good change can be – like when Bear’s friend Caterpillar changed into a butterfly!
Guide to Telling the Children about the Divorce
Common Reactions of Young Children and What to Say and Do
Age by Age Guide to Telling Children about Divorce
Research: Disclosure of Divorce Plans to Children: What the Children Have to Say