Friday, August 21, 2015

Parenting Pointers: Telling Kids About Divorce

The task of telling your kids that you're getting separated or divorced is, for many parents, one of the most painful discussions you'll ever have. Parents dread it and often want to get it over with as quickly as possible. In many families, informing the kids that the marriage is over is a hurry-up job-one that lasts five to ten minutes and no more. It's emotional, chaotic and a traumatic experience for many kids.

Telling your kids that the marriage is over can hardly be seen as a constructive conversation, but it doesn't have to be that way. Once parents are sensitized to the process and learn how to respond sensitively to their children's reaction, whatever it is, this first step in the restructuring of the family can set the stage for a smooth transition to the new reality.
Based on interviews with over 100 kids, new research outlined in the book, Divorce: How to Tell the Kids by family therapist Vikki Stark shows that parents who learn how to be properly attuned to their children's reaction when informing them that they are separating can significantly reduce the risk of trauma. The book provides parents all the needed tools to prepare them for telling their kids the right way.

The following Seven Steps are a guideline that will give parents a sense of control. They can't make it perfect, but they will make it better.
The Seven Steps for Breaking the News without Breaking Their Hearts are:
  1. Learn to manage your own emotions so you will be in the best shape possible when you talk to your children.
  2. Understand the meaning of the divorce for your particular kids.
  3. If you can, schedule a planning meeting with your spouse to work out when, where and who should do the telling. Carefully craft what to say to explain why you are getting separated.
  4. If you cannot work productively with your spouse, decide these things yourself.
  5. Tell your kids the news that you are getting separated.
  6. Using the art of being tuned in to your children's emotions - Listening carefully, Acknowledging and Accepting their feelings - respond appropriately thereby reducing the risk of trauma.
  7. Follow through using strategies that will permit you to remain in touch with your kids' feelings in the days and weeks following the telling.
The most important thing to remember is that by responding in tune with your children's emotions, you are ensuring that they feel heard, connected and not alone, even if they are deeply sad or angry. Focusing on the art of staying connected is key!

Vikki Stark, MSW, MFT is an internationally known divorce recovery expert, psychotherapist, author and blogger for Psychology Today.  She is a guest expert on television and radio on issues related to mental health and emotional well-being, notably having appeared on NBC's The Today Show, Oprah radio and been written about in Time Magazine and USA Today. She is the director of the Sedona Counselling Centre in Montreal. Learn more about Stark at

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