Once a couple makes the decision to separate or divorce, one of the most difficult steps will be to discuss this decision with a child. Risa Garon, a licensed clinical social worker, certified mediator, and Executive Director of the National Family Resiliency Center, Inc., provides the following advice regarding how to discuss an impending separation or divorce with a child:
1. Before you tell the children, speak to your spouse and decide what you will tell the children. Both parents should have the opportunity to speak.
2. Say what you think will be most helpful to them. Many parents want to tell exactly what happened in their adult relationship to their children. Parents can explain to their children how what they want to tell them will help them in understanding the separation.
3. Do not disclose adult information to your children. It is fine to say that you and the other parent had difficulties and that you were going to counseling, but could not resolve the problems. At the same time there are certain realities. If a child witnessed abuse, you need to label it as such and explain that this was not a healthy way to live.
4. Try to avoid the statement that you and your spouse or partner do not love each other any more. Children extend the loss of love to themselves.
5. Tell children about the separation when both parents are still living in the home and give them time to ask each parent questions or spend time with each child.
6. Wait to tell children until you have some idea about what will transpire once there is a physical separation. Give the children a picture of where each parent will live, when they will spend time with each parent, how their lives will change and most importantly, what will remain the same. Many children fear moving from their home, leaving friends, pets and schools.
7. Some children may react immediately by crying, running to their rooms, or denying that the pending change is any big deal. Accept each child’s reaction and reassure them that they can ask you questions or express their feelings at any time. Be open to answering their questions for as long as they need to ask you questions.
8. What you say needs to be based on the age of your children.
Always keep in mind that, although this may be one of the most stressful and heart-wrenching times in your life, your child is relying on you to act as a rock of stability and emotional support. You may act as a sounding board for your child, but never put the burden on your child of confusing him or her with your therapist.