Divorce/Separation: How Do I Tell My Kids?

Telling your children Mom and Dad are separating is like telling them there is no Santa. It’s the truth, but it isn’t easy for young children to understand. The child feels the loss of family cohesion, but do they have the language to express their fears.  Parents need to assure them that separate households won’t be the end of love, laughter, or family. To accomplish this, I recommend telling them a story that’s both clear to the child and understandable to a small child. It can be one you made up or one that someone else has shared.

The narrative of your story should be a positive, family-life tale in which there are no villains or heroes, just human characters that have very human strengths and vulnerabilities (whether animals or people). The characters are well-intentioned but make mistakes.  Mistakes by their very nature are errors that can be corrected if one accepts the responsibility for them and has the courage, to be honest.

The story should positively and realistically explain the parents’ good intentions. In the beginning, they loved each other, wanted to marry, and have children.  You may want to describe the unique qualities of each parent that attracted the parents to each other or the activities that brought them together.

In every story, there is a plot twist; something happens to change the characters or their lives.  With this change, each parent learns and accepts that they cannot please each other in some significant way. Disappointed, frustrated, and unhappy, the story explains how the parents tried but failed to make their relationship work.  Keep in mind; all differences must be reframed in nonjudgmental ways.

Please include the child’s possible feelings and worries in the story, and the healthy ways the character copes with his or her confusion, disappointment, and fear.  In the conclusion of the story, the child adapts to the changes brought about by their parents’ divorce or separation in a positive way. He/she finds her place in both parents’ households, is loved by both, and continues to have a close relationship with each. The ending goal for this story is that the child sees him/herself as a courageous and robust child who has adjusted to this difficult change and has come out whole, resilient, and lovable.

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