Question: My husband and I are going to separate, but we have two children, aged 10 and 7 we have to tell and we want to do it in the best possible way. Can you help us?


Answer: Some general guidelines for parents might be helpful to you, although I think you can mix in with these your own instinctive way of being with your children. You know them best, and I’m assuming you have their best interests at heart.


Parents sometimes feel it will be easier on everyone (including themselves) if they don’t tell them, but this only leaves children in the dark, wondering what is happening, feeling bewildered, and vulnerable, with lots of unanswered questions gnawing at them inside. Children need and deserve to know about your intentions and how it will affect their lives. Parents naturally often dread having this conversation because they are anxious about being able to control their own emotions, and worried about the children’s reactions and their well-being – all very natural.


Here are some ideas for how to think about your talk and what it should include:


Most important, tell them together if you can, be calm and keep strong emotions you may be feeling toward each other in check. There is lots of research now showing that children who do best with separation and divorce are those who do not witness ongoing anger and conflict between their parents. Kids easily blame themselves for what isn’t working between their parents, and can end up with an unbearable weight of guilt on their shoulders.


Children mainly want to know that their own lives will not change as a result of the separation. They will want reassurances about what will happen with all of their routines they take for granted --where they will sleep, whether they can stay at the same school, what happens to the dog, whether they can continue with hockey, the special time at the playground, and so on. They need time to ask all of these questions. If there will be changes, or you aren’t sure, it is important to be up front and to have a conversation with them about their worries. You might have noticed that kids are very smart and can come up with ingenious solutions themselves when they are encouraged.


It’s essential to give the children the message that you will always be their parents and will always be there for them, whether or not they are always living with you. Keep in mind that what they need is reassurance that they will not be abandoned and that you will continue to care for them because you want to.


Children of different ages will react differently, as will children of different temperaments. The important thing is to be available and to be observant. If you notice any troublesome symptoms, rather than ignoring or denying, take care to talk and communicate your love. If they continue having trouble with the adjustment, a play therapist can help, or you and your husband may want to consult with someone with expertise in separation and the impact on children.


Bea Donald M.A., R.C.C., B.C.A.M.F.T., is a program manager and clinical supervisor of the Family Counselling/Employee Assistance Program at Family Services of The North Shore. Questions? Write This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or call 604-988-5281.