How to Tell Kids that a Parent is Moving Out
Tips to help you protect and prepare your child during transition
One of the most difficult things children will experience when their parents separate is learning that one of their parents is going to be moving out. This news can come as quite a shock, depending on how much the children knew about their parents relationship. Below are some tips to help minimize the emotional damage to children. (Of course, some of these tips are not realistic in certain situations, especially if there is violence involved or the kids will no longer see one of their parents.)
Do your research
Prepare for the conversation with your children by thinking through all the questions they might have. Determine your custody arrangement, how kids will get to see both parents, the logistics of getting to and from school, etc. The better prepared you are, the more secure your kids will feel.
Be intentional about your timing
For younger kids, do not give too much lag time between when you tell them and when one parent moves. This limbo period will only cause anxiety for them. For teens, you may want to tell them earlier than later. If they find out you planned a separation long ago, they will feel betrayed that you knew and chose to withhold the information. You may want to consult a therapist for guidance on timing.
Pick the right time of day and place to tell them
Make sure you pick a time that isn’t too close to school time, bedtime, or other appointments or big events so the conversation won’t be rushed. Kids will need time afterwards to process the news and may be extremely emotional, so make sure not to tell them when they are going to see people outside the family or will be leaving their own comfortable environment.
Try to tell them together
If you and your partner can be amicable enough, tell your kids the news together so that it isn’t viewed as one parent’s decision or one parent’s fault. Even if the decision wasn’t unanimous, maintain a united front for you children’s sake.
Keep the conversation short and upbeat
Try not to have a doom and gloom attitude about the news because kids will take on your anxieties. As best you can, present the news matter of factly, while being sympathetic to their feelings. Keep the tone upbeat and only give them the details they need. Keep financial information or details about other relationships to a minimum. The news will be hard enough to hear, and children do not need to worry about additional problems.
Underscore that it’s not their fault
Make sure to let your kids know that this decision had nothing to do with them or anything they did. Kids often feel tremendous responsibility for their parents’ choices and may worry that they are somehow the reason for an impending separation. Start and end the conversation with reassurance that your kids are not at fault.
Try to determine a date for the move before you have the conversation so you can let them know exactly when the move will take place. The more specific you are, the less your children will have to wonder and be anxious about the upcoming move.
Offer ideas about how to make the transition as smooth as possible
Let your kids know your plan for visitation, and reassure them that they will get to see both parents. Give ideas about writing emails, texting, or using Skype to talk to the parent who will no longer live in the primary home.
If you don’t plan to Skype, don’t suggest it. If you won’t actually share custody, don’t promise that. Kids will remember what you say and will be even more devastated if you make promises you can’t keep.
Offer a picture of how things will be
If you have a picture of the home that one of the parents is moving to, let them see it. Tell them you will take them to see it and talk about what their room will be like. Again, the more detail you can provide, the less anxious they will feel.
Be supportive of their reactions
Your children may be angry or sad. They may stomp their feet, cry, or say nothing at all. Be supportive of whatever way they express their emotions. Let them know you are there for them and give them time and space to process the news. You may consider therapy if they exhibit ongoing trouble with the new circumstances.
No matter what you do, change is challenging for kids and will likely have its ups and downs. When things get rough, heed the famous words of the English government who encouraged citizens during WWII: “Keep Calm and Carry On!”
Image via Shutterstock.com
Annette Powers is a Solo Mom who lives in Brooklyn, New York. A communications professional, she writes about divorce, coparenting, and culture in her spare time. You can follow her on Twitter @annettepowers
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