How to Tell Children About Separation
Now that you have made the decision to separate, how do you tell the children?
The early days of separation are often the most difficult, as people truly are often grieving the loss of the relationship. People also describe emotions such as blame, fear and mistrust. Telling children about the decision to separate is a delicate matter that needs to be carefully planned.
If possible, tell them with both parents present
This is important because the children may blame the parent who is not present. When children see their parents working together to have this conversation, it sends them the message that both are still their parents and that is not going to change. They can see you are working together to help them through it.
Try to keep the information about the relationship general (avoid sharing all the details with your children)
It’s essential that children not know all the details of why the separation happened as this confuses them. Telling children that adult relationships are complicated and that we have decided we will live in different houses may be enough. Try not to blame the separation on one parent, even if one person is initiating the separation.
Provide lots of assurance
Children need to hear that they are not to blame for the separation and that you love them. If you have your parenting plan arrangements, share it with them (calendars are very helpful tools for children). If you haven’t got details of the new parenting plan yet, assure them that you are working together with professionals to make sure they will be cared for and they will get to spend time with both parents.
Sometimes children will ask if they can go to the same school or if they will have to move. If you are having financial difficulties, try not to make promises about this. It’s better to tell them you don’t know at this point unless you are absolutely sure. Tell them you will keep them informed of what is happening when you know more. So many people become emotionally attached to the family home even when they can barely afford it. While this is natural and comes from a place of good intentions (keeping the children in the same school), if you can’t afford it, the stress of deep financial burden may be harder on your children then a move and adjusting to a new school. Their sense of security and comfort comes from knowing you are ok. Reassure them about routines where you can. For example, “Dad will continue to take you to hockey, that isn’t going to change”, can be very reassuring.
Older children may need to be told separately
If you have more than one child and there is a big age difference, you may consider telling the children separately. Older children often have more questions and it may not be appropriate to answer those questions in front of younger children. Be sure to have a communication plan with your older children. Today’s teens post messages on Facebook and Twitter on an hourly basis. You’ll want to talk to your teen about allowing you the time to tell grandparents, friends or other relatives if you don’t want relatives to hear through Social Media networks. Don’t confide in older children about the relationship problems. Be sure to seek out a personal or network of support for yourself.
The do’s and don’ts of telling children about your separation
- Don’t say: ” Daddy doesn’t love mom anymore or mom doesn’t love dad anymore”. Children may interpret this as love is something you stop doing. If they stopped loving each other, will they stop loving me?
- Instead, try: “We don’t love each other in the same way married people should love each other. Or sometimes moms and dads have problems and they can’t fix them so they decide they are going to live in different houses.”
- Don’t say: “Mommy is leaving us or daddy is leaving us”. Although it may feel that way if one person does not want the separation, you never want to give your children the message that their parent is leaving them. Children are often filled with uncertainty and fear, especially during the early days. Even words like break up and split leave children feeling very anxious and afraid.
- Instead try: “We are going to live in different houses. And we are going to make sure you get to spend time at both houses. You can help us figure out what you want to have in your room at mom’s and at dad’s house.”
- Don’t’ say: “Who would you like to live with?” There is a lot of misinformation about the age at which children can decide where they want to live. While it is important to check in and see how the kids are adjusting to their new scheduling, asking them whom they want to live with is a lose-lose question. Children write about how that puts them in the middle and they feel torn because they know someone will get hurt.
- Instead try: “We wanted to check in to see how the schedule is working from your perspective? What is challenging for you? What can we do to help?”
If possible, stay in the house for a little while after they have been told. This can provide children with the assurance that you are both still there for them and give them a chance to ask questions or express themselves once the news has settled in. Counselling can be very helpful for children, particularly in the early transition. Consider seeking additional support for them and even for yourselves. Some couples even continue counselling during the transition so they can help their children through this. Just because you are separating, it doesn’t mean you have to hate each other. Continuing to work on communication is just as important now.
This is a very emotional time for everyone, by pre-planning the conversation with your children, you can help ease some of those early challenges that children face.