How do you tell the most important people in your life that one of the most important people in their lives won’t be living under the same roof with the rest of the family anymore? It’s not a topic that any parent looks forward to having with their children, regardless of their age. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you prepare for this conversation with your children:
- Kids are smart. No matter how hard you’ve tried to keep arguments away from the children, they’ve picked up on things. When parents keep certain bits of information locked away, children will come to their own conclusions about what may be happening. Sometimes, they’re right on the money, and other times, they may have concluded something worse may be happening, like someone is dying or that they are the cause of family unhappiness. Be ready to probe and hear their perceptions.
- Have all family members present when the news is shared. This kind of news travels fast, and other children who aren’t there, may feel additional resentment if they think they weren’t important enough to be included. Also, if one parent is missing from the conversation, it can cause children to feel awkward around them later.
- Share the news at home. This is where children feel comfortable and they have their rooms where they can escape. Having this conversation in a restaurant where others can see them or where they have to be on their best behavior will add to their emotions about the situation. Also, refrain from doing this on a family trip, where their memories of the special location will be forever tainted.
- Allow kids to ask questions or make comments. Be prepared for silence, tears, and anger. They may say things they don’t mean, like, “I hate you!” or “I’ll never forgive you.” Even though you know why they are saying this, it will still sting and add to your feelings about the situation. Give them space and the opportunity will present itself to continue the conversation.
- Don’t dodge questions. Because of the trust and family bonds that are being tested with this news, it is important for kids to feel as though they are being given honest answers. Tell them honestly if you don’t know something, if an answer or outcome hasn’t been decided, or if a major change is going to happen, no matter how hard the truth is to share. Your children will appreciate your honesty and will continue to come to you with questions.
- Refrain from making negative statements.Do not give into negative conversations about the other parent, or using your children as a sounding board. It’s easier to fall into this if children are older or have witnessed certain actions by the other parent. If they ask, give them short facts about the situation. They will come to their own conclusions, and these may shift over time.
- Children are amazingly resilient, far more than adults. Some of them may find it a relief that the silence, tension, and arguing will end, opening up the way for laughter, smiles, and positive one-on-one time with their parents. This doesn’t mean they won’t have ups and downs during this process.
- Utilize supports for the whole family. Encourage children to spend time with their friends or taking part in their normal activities. Don’t prohibit them from talking about this with others, but you can help decide on some rules for sharing with those outside the family. Parents should regularly share their stresses and emotions with their friends, adult family members, religious advisors, and legal counsel. All family members may benefit from a family therapist to help them move through the adjustment.