2023 Author: Anita Thornton | [email protected]. Last modified: 2023-05-22 03:30
Telling kids you're breaking up is never an easy thing to do. What to say? What to silence? The speech must inevitably adapt to the age of the children. Here are some tips to guide you through this difficult announcement.
Preschooler (0-5 years old)
The concept of separation is fuzzy for a preschooler. Thus, he will not understand the full meaning of this announcement. This does not mean that you should give it less importance, on the contrary. "Some parents don't make it clear to children that they're separating because they think they're too young to understand. It’s a mistake,” says Josée Lussier, social worker and accredited family mediator.
So even if your child is 2 years old, choose a time when you will take the time to make an official announcement and when you will be available to reassure him.
“Toddlers tend to own separation. They think it's their fault if the parents separate,” says Myriam Légaré, social worker and accredited family mediator at AlternativeMediation. Thus, it will be doubly important to reassure them. "We can tell them that mom and dad are separating, but that we could never separate from them," suggests Ms. Légaré. Without going into too much detail and projecting yourself into the future, you can tell them, for example, that their favorite stuffed animal or cuddly toy will travel with him to mum and dad's house.
School-age children (5 to 8 years old)
At this age, a child understands what separation means. If he feels a little less responsible for the situation than a toddler, the fact remains that he will be very sad to lose family life as he has known it. Many children of this age will tend to wish for reconciliation. "You should not create hope in children with formulas like: 'You never know what life has in store for you. The decision must be final and this must be clear in our message”, emphasizes Myriam Légaré.
“Between 5 and 8 years old, children really like stories and this can be a good way to make them understand the situation,” suggests Josée Lussier. So stock up on books at the library or bookstore before making the official announcement to the child. You will be well equipped to comfort him afterwards.
School-age children (9 to 12 years old)
From the age of 9, children are better able to understand their parents. Thus, it may happen that he tends to blame one of the two parents for the breakup. It is therefore all the more important to make an announcementneutral.
To download: the booklet My parents are separating or divorcing: what does it mean for me? from the Department of Justice Canada. This booklet has two purposes: to help children aged 9 to 12 learn some basics of family law and to give them an idea of the steps their parents could take when they separate. It also aims to help children understand that their emotional reaction to divorce is normal.
Teenagers (12 to 16 years old)
Even if they're starting to be independent and maybe a lot of their friends have gone through the separation of their parents, the fact remains that you have to take the time to make an announcement in due form to adolescents. "We must not trivialize separation, even if one out of two couples ends up separating" underlines Ms. Lussier.
Thus, plan the time necessary to answer their questions, which are likely to be numerous. “Teenagers are going to want to know a lot about the organization, about how things are going to happen concretely for them,” says Josée Lussier.
Regardless of the age of the children, certain rules should be applied when announcing the separation.
- A "family" announcement. If you have more than one child, the announcement of the separation should be done in "family council" (unless exceptional circumstances, such as violence). Thus, mom and dad announce the separation to all children at the same time, regardless of their age. It is then that we can respond more individually to each person's questions. “Teenagers will be more concerned with the organization of daily life – will they be able to continue their sports activities, will they have to move away from their friends, change schools, etc. – while 6-year-olds will ask more questions about their landmarks – when will they be able to see mom and dad,” says Josée Lussier.
- A simple and clear message. Children should not know the circumstances of your breakup. Who did what? Who wants to leave? These details belong to you and should not be shared with children of any age. The announcement should be as simple as the following: “Mom and Dad are separating because they are no longer happy together, which is why we will now be living in two separate houses.”
- An unplanned announcement. Of course, on your side, everything is planned. You know you'll finish work early Tuesday night to make time to announce the kids. However, they know nothing about it. “Children are in the moment, especially when they are little. We don't want to cause them stress or anxiety by telling them in advance that we will be holding a special family council to announce a change to them,” says Ms. Légaré.
- A child is not a confidant. LittleNo matter how old a child is, they should not become your confidant. It's not to him that you should say: "I really did everything to make it work", "daddy really hurt me a lot", etc.
- Neutrality. No, separation is not easy. Neither for you. Nor for your children. However, try to remain as neutral as possible in this announcement. Don't make it a drama. Don't make it a party (“it's going to be super cool, you're going to have two houses”, etc.). As Ms. Légaré points out, “this could prevent the child from experiencing certain emotions”
- Be present and friendly. Separation is a shock for everyone. Your children, just like you, are likely to go through a roller coaster of emotions. Be attentive and attentive to changes in behavior. “If the child begins to have recurrent nightmares or has disturbing behaviors at home, at school or at daycare, it is better to consult,” suggests Madame Lussier.
Resources and tools
- Engagement and Support Programs for Children of Separating or Divorcing Parents, Department of Justice Canada.
- Première Ressource, a free professional consultation service for parent-child relationships
- Guide to Parenting Arrangements After Separation or Divorce, Department of Justice Canada.