Divorcing with children: Tips for breaking the news

When breaking divorce news to kids, parents should show a united front, have specific answers ready, pick the setting carefully and tell every kid at once.

Divorce affects the lives of thousands of children in Washington each year. In 2014, more than 12,000 couples who had at least one child divorced statewide, according to data from the Washington State Department of Health. For many of these kids, receiving the initial news of the divorce can be an unforgettable or even traumatizing event. Fortunately, there are several steps that parents in Federal Way can take to reduce the distress and upheaval that this news can cause.

Approach it collaboratively

If feasible, it is preferable for both parents to work together to tell their children that they will be getting a divorce, according to Psychology Today. Rather than casting blame or fighting, parents should try to take responsibility for the situation and put their children ahead of their own feelings. This can help reassure children that they will not have to choose between their parents and that the separation will be handled in a mature manner.

Provide concrete information

After learning about a divorce, children often have questions about concrete issues, such as daily living arrangements, as Divorce Magazine observes. Parents should put some thought into issues such as child custody and visitation arrangements before breaking the news and, if possible, give their children a realistic overview of the following matters:

  • Which parent the children will primarily live with
  • How much time the children will spend with each parent
  • Where the children will attend school

At the same time, honesty about issues that remain undecided is crucial. For example, if the relocation of a custodial parent is a possibility, parents should not mislead their children about the certainty of future plans.

Avoid keeping secrets

Psychology Today recommends that parents avoid telling their children about the divorce at different times. Parents might be tempted to delay breaking the news to children who are younger or less mature. However, this can make younger children feel left out while placing an unfair burden on their older siblings. It is preferable to announce the divorce to the entire family at once.

Choose a safe setting

Finally, parents should put some thought into when and where they will break the news. Choosing a setting that is private and free of distractions is advisable. Parents may want to avoid announcing the divorce close to special dates, such as holidays or birthdays. When picking a time to break the news, parents also should try to steer clear of stressful events in their children's lives, such as school exams or sporting competitions.

Moving forward

Breaking the news of divorce gently is only the first step toward easing children through this difficult transition. For advice on navigating the process of divorce and crafting an appropriate parenting plan for life afterward, parents should consult with a family law attorney.