Separation and divorce
How to tell your child about the separation?
Some children can sense that their parents are separating even before they’re told. Others will be surprised. In both cases, the abrupt change will be hard to accept. Telling your child about the separation will give them time to prepare for and adapt to the upcoming changes. It’s also an opportunity for the child to express their emotions and needs and for you to reassure them.
Both parents should make the announcement
It’s important that both you and your ex tell your children about the separation. If you can, do it together. If not, each should do it separately.
This way, you can both reassure the child, especially if they’re young, that you’ll continue to love them despite the separation.
If you have more than one child, it’s better to make the announcement as a family. Avoid calling them to a family meeting too long in advance, so that you don’t worry them. After you tell them, you can meet with each child one-on-one and tailor your approach to their different ages.
Whether you do it together or separately, be sure that you both describe the situation the same way and avoid denigrating each other. It’s important to be serene when talking about it; avoid emotional outbursts and be respectful of the other parent.
A simple and clear message, adapted to the child’s age
Whatever words you use, the most important message to give your child is that they’re not responsible for the separation and that it doesn’t mean that you’re abandoning them.
It’s recommended that you tell them only what is necessary, and that you do so simply, without going into detail. The reasons and circumstances of your separation and any blame between the parents don’t concern the child. One of the things you can do is to help the child visualize the next steps.
It’s also better to give out little bits of information at a time over several meetings, instead of telling them everything at once when you first share the news.
Your approach should depend on the age of the child. Your options include:
- using simple words, short sentences, and reassuring gestures for younger children
- telling stories with the help of a specialized book, if they’re a little older
- giving more concrete information to pre-teens
- having direct conversations and answering questions, if they’re adolescents.
Choosing the right moment
Don’t rush. If you can, take the time to discuss the next steps with your ex before telling your child that you’re separating. This will make it easier to describe what’s going to happen next to your child.
But don’t wait until the last minute either. The night before you move or your ex moves out is too late.
Also, don’t tell your child about the separation at a time that’s important time for your child (at Christmastime, for example, or on their birthday). Be sure you choose a time of day when your child will be available, relaxed, and far from any distractions.
Choose a spot good for conversation
Find a calm and comfortable spot where you’ll be able to linger for a longer time if your child has any questions.
The place for the announcement is just as important as the time. The objective is always to create conditions where your child feels safe and free to say what’s on their mind.
Be open to your child’s reaction
Right after you tell them, give your child time to digest the news, and be open to their reaction. You’ll no doubt have to comfort them and answer their questions.
Expect questions like: Who’s going to take care of me? Are we going to move? Am I going to have to change schools? Where will I spend Christmas? In your answers, avoid pointless detail and information that concern only the parents.
There’s no need to pointlessly prolong the conversation when you first make the announcement. Your child may need time before they want to ask questions.
After you share the news, listen to your child, paying particular attention to their emotions. Don’t hesitate to check in with them and create new opportunities to discuss the separation.
Know that your child’s well-being depends on your own. If you’re not doing well – if you’re crying a lot or if you feel frustrated or angry – seek help from a professional, like a psychologist.
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The information presented on this page is not a legal opinion or legal advice. This page explains in a general way the law that applies in Quebec. To obtain a legal opinion or legal advice on your personal situation, consult a legal professional.
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