Telling my child at age 7 about my pending divorce with her father was the hardest conversation I’ve ever had with her. She was immensely scared and confused, and had lots of questions. Most of them boiled down to just one..how would her life change? She snuggled in close and needed a lot of love and reassurance. That was 3 1/2 years ago. She has seen a lot of changes since then as we moved out, moved through divorce proceedings, adjusted to co-parenting, grandparents stepping in and stepping out, job changes, childcare changes, and her parents remarrying and moving on. We didn’t do everything right, but there is one thing that stands out in my own experience that was right. It was the effort we made to keep as much consistency in our child’s community life as possible. That limited the chaos to within the family structure. We didn’t change schools, activities, or churches. The adults and friends in her life remained the same, and that became her support structure. I learned that approach in a book called How to Help Children Survive Divorce by Dr. Archibald D. Hart. That book was indespensible to me. While keeping everything around us the same wasn’t possible, we really tried to put off any unnecessary changes.
Due to having met several families recently that are preparing to tell their own kids, we’ve pulled together some resources to help you. You’ll have to browse through them and apply what fits your own situtation, but they all have something to offer. This first article as a perfect starting point. BabyCenter.com did a really nice job of laying out a game plan to help you tell your kids. Click here to read through it:
How to tell your child you’re getting divorced (ages 5 to 8) | BabyCenter
There are many things to consider when talking to the kids, and a simple Google search will turn up a lot of articles. Remember that most of all, our children need to know that they are safe and loved. Another thing that was especially helpful with my own child was enrolling her in a DivorceCareforKids (DC4K) group shortly after the divorce process started. Within that group, she was able to find a safe place to process her feelings and ask questions. The most important thing it did for her was to restore her confidence and assure her that she wasn’t alone. She came out of her first session saying, “Mom, they are all like me!”
Here is an excerpt from another article published on the DC4K Parentzone blog that gives a few more practical tips to consider:
Judith Wallerstein, in her book What About the Children?, says it is best to plan on having two family meetings with both parents together with their children. Obviously, we are assuming that both parents are willing to participate:
The first meeting is when the parents tell the children about the divorce. The second meeting is a chance to explain things and let the children ask questions. Depending on the questions, a third family meeting might be necessary. Keep the family meetings brief so as to not overwhelm the children. It is best to let school-age children know a few weeks in advance of one parent moving out of the family home.
For children of all ages, it is best to be as truthful as their developmental age allows. For six-, seven-, or eight-year-old children, this is the age when school and friends are becoming important to them. However, they still depend on their family—meaning mom, dad, and siblings—being there for them.
Research shows that it is best if both parents can sit down with the children and tell them together. The parents need to plan what they are going to say.
Advice for parents
- Tell the children that when you got married you loved each other very much.
- Explain to the children that when they were born you were very happy because you had wanted a family.
- Be honest about what has been happening and that mom and dad will not live together in the same house any longer.
- Tell them you will still be a family, just a different kind of family.
- Tell the children that you will still protect and love them.
- Let them know that both parents will still help them with schoolwork.
- Explain who will take the children to after-school activities, such as sports and gymnastics.
- Let the children know where they will live, especially if the family will move out of the primary residence where they have been living.
- Tell the children when and how often they will see the other parent.
It is best not to present too much information at one time. Remember that children of this age are trying to fit into two worlds—home and school. They may feel that the divorce will cause a lot of confusion in their world. There are many ways that divorce affects children this age.
Be sure to understand the Effects of Divorce on the 6, 7, and 8 year-old Child.
Finally, I would be amiss not to share with you the Dinosaurs Divorce book. It’s a clever way to help a school age kid understand what divorce is all about. Here’s a sneak peek of what’s inside:
As you can see, you’re not alone. Yes, you have to have this conversation with your kids, and yes, it’s going to be a hard one. Many other parents have been there before you, and there is a lot of help available. So, grab hold of what is helpful to you here, take time to pray and ask God to help you, and love your kids through this. Having a failed marraige does not mean you’ve failed as a parent. You are not alone.
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10
Were you able to find a healthy way to tell your kids that you were getting a divorce? Can you tell us about it? Knowing that they aren’t in this alone can be helpful to any parent facing this, and your story can bring them hope today.
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What is it you’re facing? Nobody goes into battle alone. We can stand with you. Let us know in the comments how we can pray for you, or by submitting your story. He will fight for you.