Telling your children you are going to be splitting up can be a daunting task and is one of the most difficult conversations a parent can face.
There is no easy way to tell your children and there are no hard and fast rules – every family is different. Much depends on the relationship between family members before the separation.
There are steps however that you can take to make the whole experience as positive as it can be.
Who should tell the children will depend on the state of the relationship between you and your ex partner. If you are still amicable enough to be able to tell the children together, this is beneficial for everyone.
How should you tell the children?
There is no “right” way to tell children you are separating. It is important to bear in mind that you will probably feel nervous, upset and confused. These feelings are completely natural. After all, you are just a parent trying to do your very best in a difficult situation.
It is not always possible to choose your time, but if you can, try to tell your children gradually and not at the last minute. They will need time to adjust to the news and it is likely that you will have the conversation with them several times over the next few days and weeks.
Avoid important times such as the beginning of school term, GCSE exams or just before they are about to go and stay with a relative.
It is best to avoid bed time or when the children are tired, especially if they are younger and chose a time when you know you can stay with them without interruption.
If you can it is best to tell all your children together. This way none of them can feel they have missed out on information and won’t feel anything is being kept from them. Encourage them all to come to either of you with their individual concerns afterwards and to speak to you both separately if they wish.
What to say?
All children, whatever their age, need information to help them understand. It may be tempting to say as little as possible in order to spare their feelings, but without information children can fantasise and come up with answers themselves. It can be difficult to decide just how much information children are capable of facing and digesting. This will depend on their age and how you normally communicate with them day to day.
Be honest, tell your children what is happening in an open and honest way. If you tell them half truths they can become confused and distressed. Although your children may be devastated by the news it is important not to give them false information to make them feel better. For example, if you tell them that nothing has to change they will be temporarily reassured by this but will quickly find that everything actually is changing for them and they will then feel confused.
Keep it brief, stay calm and try to keep the information clear and brief. It can be a big shock to children and they may not be able to cope with being overburdened by information. Don’t pour out all of the complex reasons behind the separation and avoid blaming or criticising your ex partner. This may make your children feel they have to take sides and it can be very distressing.
Most importantly explain to the children that it is not their fault. However well you explain it to children, they are unable to understand the nature of adult relationships. It is essential to tell children whatever their age clearly that it is not because of them that you are splitting up. You might want to explain, that while you are splitting up from each other, an adults love for each other can change, where as a parents love for their child is forever and never changes. Reassure often that it is not their fault and nothing they could have done would have changed what has happened. It is common for children to think that if you have stopped loving each other you will stop loving them. Reassure them that nothing will change the way you feel about them no matter what.
If you want further advice on how to tell your children, our family law solicitors in Exeter and Plymouth are happy to help. We provide further information on our website and can talk you through the legal processes of separation and divorce.