By Alejandra Okie
Real American Family: How important is it to plan and think through how to have this conversation with your child?
Kelly Brown: You have to remember that telling your child you are getting separated or divorced is only one in a series of events and changes that will have a long-lasting impact on your child’s life. For example, the child may start living in two households, then one or both of their parents may start dating and may remarry, and so on. You want to cooperate as much as possible with your ex-spouse from the very beginning so that your child will have the best chances of adjusting and being happy in the long term. Think of your child’s needs first and try to put your anger toward your spouse aside.
Real American Family: What should the parents do before the meeting?
Kelly Brown: The parents should talk about what they plan on saying and not saying to their child when they first break the news. They should make plans for both of them to be present when having this conversation with their child, if possible. Plan on explaining, in general terms, why this is happening. You should also tell your child what will be changing, for example, if a parent is moving out and if the child will be going back and forth from one house to the other. You may need to repeat some of this information later since your child may not take it all in. Give your child a chance to ask questions.
Real American Family: Are there any key messages that parents should provide to their child when breaking the news about the divorce?
Kelly Brown: Children, especially young children, need to feel safe and that their basic needs will be met. Statements such as, “We will always be your mom and dad” and “We will always love you” are very important to a child in this situation and should be repeated over several days and weeks. They should also be told that it’s not their fault that their parents are divorcing.
Real American Family: Are there certain things that parents should not do or say?
Kelly Brown: The most important thing is that both parents stay calm and not start pointing fingers or placing blame. You want to show your child that both of you will be working together as parents. This will help reassure your child so he or she feels less anxious.
Real American Family: Are there any books that you recommend for parents?
Kelly Brown: Yes, there is a great book that I recommend for all of my clients in this situation. It is “Cooperative Parenting and Divorce: A Parent Guide to Effective Co-Parenting.” It includes helpful tips and exercises to put your child first while going through this difficult situation. You can look for it at your public library.
Real American Family: Can you recommend any good books for young children?
Kelly Brown: My favorite book that I use with elementary age children is “Dinosaurs Divorce: A Guide for Changing Families.” It can help kids talk about their own thoughts and feelings related to divorce.
Real American Family: Thank you so much!
Kelly Brown: You’re very welcome.
Kelly Brown, M.A., is a school-based licensed professional counselor in North Carolina. She provides individual therapy to students in grades K through 12 and their parents.