Breaking the news: Tips for talking to your children about divorce

When telling kids about divorce, parents should choose the setting with care, appreciate each child’s needs and avoid upsetting them by fighting.

New Jersey had one of the lowest divorce rates in the U.S. in 2015, with about 12 in 1,000 people getting divorced that year, according to The New York Post. Still, this translates to tens of thousands of people in the state divorcing annually, including many who have children. Divorce introduces many unique concerns for parents, from creating a parenting plan to fairly dividing up financial responsibilities. Still, one of the top concerns for most parents is telling their children in the first place.

The news of divorce can be traumatic, and the memory of receiving this news may haunt children for years. Fortunately, there are several steps that parents can take to make breaking the news less difficult, both for themselves and their kids.

Selecting a setting

Parents should give careful thought to the time and place that they will announce that they are getting divorced. It is best to steer clear of special occasions, such as birthdays and holidays, as this may cause painful memories in future years. Parents should also avoid sharing the news when children are stressed about their own challenges, such as exams, competitions or performances. Finally, parents should try to choose a quiet, calm setting where children will be relaxed and focused.

Limiting conflict

Divorcing spouses may feel many negative emotions toward one another, including blame, resentment and hostility. However, exhibiting these emotions can hurt the children more than anyone else, as it may make them fear that they will eventually be forced to choose between both parents. Therefore, parents should take the following steps to reassure their children:

· Break the news together in a calm and cooperative manner.

· Reassure the children that each parent still loves them and will remain involved in their lives.

· Avoid undermining or speaking badly about the other parent.

Early on, parents may also want to explore alternatives to litigation that will help reduce conflict and facilitate more effective co-parenting. For example, using mediation to determine child custody and address other aspects of the divorce may ease tension and stress for parents and children alike.

Tailoring the message

Each child responds to divorce differently, depending on his or her age, maturity and past experiences. Parents should keep in mind that their children may all have different expectations and fears. For instance, very young children may worry mainly about concrete issues: Where will they go to school? How often will they see each parent? Where will the family pets live?

Parents should consider the concerns each child may raise and have answers ready. At the same time, they should not imply that uncertain arrangements are going to happen. A family law court must always approve any proposed parenting plan, and even after this is done, post-decree modifications may sometimes be necessary. It is important to give kids realistic expectations and avoid making false promises.

Moving forward

Navigating a divorce and related parenting issues is never easy, but qualified guidance can prevent missteps that make the process more stressful for kids. For this reason, parents who want to ease the divorce process may benefit from working with an attorney who possesses experience handling difficult issues such as child custody and child support.