Wednesday, December 24, 2008

5 Tips on How to Tell the Kids

One of the hardest things to do in a divorce is to break the news to the children. In some cases, the kids may strongly suspect what's going on and they may actually welcome the change, but in a great number of cases, it is a very emotional time for parents and children. To help deal with the issue, here are 5 tips to help you tell the children in the best way possible in your situation.

1. Work together. If the parents can make a joint announcement, in person, it can be a little reassuring to the children even though they may hate the message. Showing that the parents can still work together, even when they are splitting up, will help. Be sure that the parents are saying the same things and are coordinated with each other. Both parents should plan what to say and work together to carry it out. They should avoid getting into an argument and they don't need to go into great detail about fault or other adult issues.

2. Work with a Mental Health Professional (MHP). In Fort Worth and Tarrant County Collaborative cases, and in many other areas, MHPs help the parents know what to say and how to say it. Sometimes parents can come up with appropriate messages, but often they don't have a clue, even when they are trying to soften the blow to the children. An MHP can help put together a discussion that fits the children's development and needs. Think though the scene and be prepared for a bad reaction from the children. Learn what to expect and how to respond to various reactions.

3. Timing is Important. Think about what else is going on in the child's life. If the children are at finals time, or near some athletic or other extra-curricular event that they participate in, it may be better to wait to tell them. Pay attention to holidays, health and school. Don't break the news when the kids either can't handle it or when getting them upset will lead to bad consequences outside of the divorce issues. Telling the children just before or during a major holiday or family event can create a very unhappy association for the child. Try to make the announcement a little ways before or after the holiday.

4. Reassure your Children. Make it very clear that your decision to get a divorce is not based on something the kids did or didn't do -- it's not their fault. Make sure the children know that they didn't do anything wrong. And the children should understand that there's nothing they can do to "fix" the problem. Reassurance also includes having both parents demonstrate to the kids that both parents still love them. Spend time with them, listen to their concerns and respond helpfully. Show them your relationship and commitment to them remain strong.

5. Give the Children Reason to be Hopeful. Explain the good things that can come from a divorce (even though you may have a hard time with what you are doing). Again, working with an MHP is probably a necessary part of creating a hopeful message for the children. Depending on their ages, the children may get excited to learn about a new home where they will have their own room, new play arrangements, etc. Older kids may appreciate having two homes with less fighting. Find some good that will come from the divorce and focus on that. If you can't come up with anything good, get help from the MHP or your family or friends. Even if you don't want the divorce, you can find something good to come out of it.

Note: Your best opportunity, IMHO, to tell the kids, in a less damaging manner, about an upcoming divorce is by opting for Collaborative Law and working with a mental health professional to prepare a joint announcement that fits the needs and abilities of the children.

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