While divorce has many moments that will be challenging, it’s safe to say that telling your kids can be one of the most daunting moments. Let’s face it, the reason why couples stay in unhappy marriages is “for the kids”. So yes, telling the kids that you are separating is a tough conversation. Tough conversations require us to have courage and when it comes to our kids … they deserve wholehearted appropriate honesty. 
Gary M. Gary Neuman—founder and director of the Sandcastles Program and author of Helping Your Kids Cope with Divorce the Sandcastles Way — is an inspiration and a leader when it comes to understanding kids and divorce. Like Gary, we believe that kids come first and that their voices need to be heard. Redefining the family and telling children that what they know to be true, and what they’ve simply counted on is all about to change requires thoughtfulness. It requires a developmentally appropriate, calm conversation about the family’s future. And yes, is difficult to execute, so here are some guidelines:

1. Tell the entire family at once.

Sit down together. Communicate that you are still going to be together as a family, even at the moment of breaking up. There are so many different permutations of families these days, a divorced family is still a family it just looks a little different. I get it, I have heard children say “we are no longer a family“. But in fact, the dictionary defines a family as;
 [fam-uh-lee, fam-lee]
 noun,  plural fam·i·lies.
 a basic social unit consisting of parents and their children, considered as a group, whether dwellingtogether or not:

2. You must convey the crucial messages in the first 45 seconds.

You say three things: 
  • Mom and Dad made each other very sad and we think that it’s best for the family that Mom and Dad live apart.
  • You guys are going to spend plenty of time with both of us in our homes.
  • It is absolutely not your fault and you did nothing to cause this.

3. Both partners must practice the conversation together before talking to the kids.

It is of great benefit for the children of divorce to see that their parents sit on the same page. And this is a tough one. But I can promise you, that if you can speak kindly about one another and show up in agreement this aligns with their reality and inner belief about family. I have seen many times just how difficult this is for two people who are hurting, who’ve been betrayed, who are heartbroken – but it is in this moment that we need to pull up our socks and be kind. It’s where we have to dig deep and call on compassion for our children and the situation at hand. I’ve sat with couples and have helped them get on the same page and essentially write a script that they can become comfortable with so that when they sit down with their children they speak calmly and from the heart. Kids add it all up … they take inventory … how you show up today adds to their beliefs about you and they translate that into how you feel about them

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Once you break the news to your children, it is important to listen to them and to help them deal with their sadness. They might start crying. They might get angry. So hold their hands. Hug them. Sit with them and allow them to ask questions. Here are some things that you can share that are developmentally appropriate. Keep in mind, what you say to a six year old will differ from what you can and should share with a 15 year old. You can say things like;
  • We will always love you.
  • We will take care of you and keep you safe, even though we are not living all together in one house.
  • You will be with both of us a lot.
  • It’s okay to feel sad or mad.
  • This happens to a lot of families. We’ll have to look for ways to help each other.
  • You will always be able to talk to and visit your grandparents and everyone else in our family. Divorce does’t take away your family.
  • It’s can be tough getting used to new things. Your mother/father and I will do all that we can to help you.
Some children may ask why this happening to them, or what they did to make this happen. This is where developmentally appropraite explanations are so important.  First and foremost, avoid bad-mouthing one another. And secondly, we need to explain just enough to help them. You don’t want to give them specific reasons, because you don’t want to start blaming one other as they simply don’t need to know the inner workings of an intimate adult relationship. But you do need to give them general and meaningful reasons, such as;
  •  In our marriage, we didn’t love each other enough.
  •  We were too selfish.
  •  We didn’t get help early enough.
  •  Nothing you did or thought caused this to happen. We tried, but we can’t stay together because we hurt each other too much.
These are real things and just maybe they can learn from. While we can argue that it isn’t developmentally appropriate for children to develop life skills from divorce. There is a silver lining here … and it is called resilience. Life constantly throws us challenges and we do need to teach our children how to handle obstacles. How to stand up for self. How to be real and honest and courageous.
Telling your kids that you are separating is a tough one, but so are many other moments throughout the process of separation and divorce. At thegooddivorce we help couples de-couple, show up for their kids and see the good in life after divorce. We understand the process, let us help you do it better then everyone else.

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