How to Talk To Your Kids About Divorce
by Dr. Eri Nakagami, Ph.D., LCSW
Talking to your kids about divorce is one of the most painful and difficult conversations you’ll face. When you know that you will be separating or divorcing, it’s important to talk to your kids before they hear it from someone else. Work with your spouse to decide how you will inform them.
Plan what you will say to your children
Collaborate with your spouse on when, how, and what you will tell your kids. Plan to tell them on a day that allows for some family time, like a weekend. Do not have this conversation just before school or bedtime or on a holiday or other special day. Consider using a mediator, therapist, or divorce coach if it’s difficult to collaborate with the other parent or the two of you aren’t able to agree on how you will have the conversation with your children to help you work out the details.
Talking to your children together may be hard, but it lets your kids know that you’re committed to working together as their parents. It’s also important that your children hear this news at the same time and directly from the parents, not from anyone else that may have heard it first. If your kids are of different ages, plan to share the basic information with all your kids together. Then, during a separate conversation, follow up with the older children. Once again, seek help from a professional if you cannot have this conversation together.
You may feel that you want your children to know the “truth” (i.e., “Mom had an affair,” or “Dad is leaving us.”) but avoid the temptation to assign blame or say whose “fault” this is. This will cause your children to feel caught in a loyalty bind which is not healthy for them. The “truth” is less important than providing the support and reassurance that your children need. Try to use the “we” word when you are explaining the decisions that have been made.
Addressing the “why”
It is not important nor appropriate that you provide specific details about why you are divorcing. However, your kids will want to know why this is happening and may press for information. Although you don’t want to share details of a personal nature, be prepared to give some type of general explanation without blame. Remember that these are grown-up problems that your kids, even smart and mature kids, cannot fully understand yet. Focus on empathizing instead of answering or explaining.
Tell your kids what will change and what will stay the same
The most important thing kids want to know is how your divorce is going to affect their lives. Help your children to be prepared for these changes by being honest about what you know and what you don’t know. If you and your spouse have settled on how you will share time with the kids, let them know the schedule. Reassure them about the things that will stay the same such as their school, friends, or sports, or other activities. Provide a sense of calm with stability and routines.
Your children will need lots of reassurance that the divorce is not their fault. Parents sometimes underestimate the stress, anxiety, insecurity, anger, sadness, hurt, and guilt that children experience. Reassure them that although you and the other parent are divorcing, their parents will not divorce them and your love for them will not change. Always keep an open door to questions and conversations about the divorce.
About Embark Behavioral Health
Embark Behavioral Health is a leading network of outpatient centers and residential programs offering premier mental health treatment for preteens, teens, and young adults. Dedicated to its big mission of reversing the trends of teen and young adult anxiety, depression, and suicide by 2028, Embark offers a robust continuum of care with different levels of service and programming; has a deep legacy of over 25 years serving youths; works with families to adjust treatment in real time to improve results; treats the entire family using an evidence-based approach; and offers the highest levels of quality care and safety standards. For more information about Embark or its treatment programs, including virtual services, intensive outpatient programs (IOPs), therapeutic day treatment programs, also known as partial hospitalization programs (PHPs), short-term residential treatment, wilderness therapy, and long-term residential treatment, visit http://www.embarkbh.com.
About Dr. Eri Nakagami
Dr. Eri Nakagami, Ph.D., LCSW is the Clinical Director of Embark Behavioral Health West LA Outpatient Clinic. She received her BA in sociology from Vassar College and her MSW and Ph.D. from USC. Eri has an extensive clinical practice experience with children, adolescents, adults, and families, as well as a long history of teaching, supervising, training, and consulting masters and licensed clinicians. She is dedicated to treating everyone with empathy, dignity, and respect and will ensure that the services provided maintain treatment integrity and follows the Embark Treatment Approach. When Eri is not at work, she loves to spend time with family and friends, workout, cook, bake, and explore familiar and new places.