7 Tips for Telling Your Teenager You’re Getting a Divorce

Parents and Teen

Telling your children that you are getting divorced is undoubtedly one of the toughest things you will ever do. How you have this conversation and the points you make are critical, as it sets the tone for things to come. There are general best practices that apply to children of every age, but teenagers require extra empathy and support, because being a teenager is already hard enough.

  1. Pick the right time. The news will be shattering, so find an evening where you don’t have anything scheduled and ideally before a weekend, so your child has a few days to process and be sad and angry without obligations.Try to avoid special days such as birthdays and holidays.
  2. You both need to be there. If possible, both parents should be present to have the conversation. This will show your teenager that you are both on the same page and there to support him or her.
  3. Be honest. Explain that you both tried very hard to fix the marriage, but you weren’t able to make it work.
  4. Reassure them. Make it clear that the divorce isn’t their fault, and there is nothing they can do to change it. Tell your child that you both love him or her and that will never change. Say it again.
  5. Give them the facts. Let your teenager know where each parent will live and what to expect in terms of seeing each parent. Inform your child of what will change and what will remain the same in his or her day-to-day schedule.
  6. Don’t point fingers. Avoid blaming the other parent. The more your teenager sees you working together and collaborating, the easier the process will be.
  7. Validate your child’s feelings. Let your child know you understand how sad and difficult this is and that their feelings make total sense. Affirm that both of you are there to support him or her through this transition

What happens in the days following the conversation is equally important. If possible, it’s helpful for both parents to remain in the same house for a couple of weeks. Research has shown that this action, as difficult as it may be, has a high likelihood of decreasing feelings of abandonment that children can develop through divorce. While your physical presence is important, your interactions with your child are even more important. Consider this quote from Gary Neuman, LMHC, founder of the renowned Sandcastles Divorce Therapy Program and author of Helping Your Kids Cope with Divorce the Sandcastles Way.

“The truth is, children can and do live happily after divorce. Unquestionably, families who encourage love, trust and open communication are better prepared to meet the challenges than those who do not.”–Gary Neuman, LMHC

It’s common for children of all ages to experience feelings of guilt, anger, sadness and being conflicted. Encouraging an environment of open communication and to listening beyond the words they are actually saying will help your child to feel greater security. Focus on actively listening, mirroring, validating and empathizing. This will help your teenager feel supported and understood. For more information on this technique and sample scripts for having the conversation, sign up now for your Untangle The Knot subscription.

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