Divorce can be an emotionally turbulent experience, especially when you have to explain it to your teenage children. They may feel confused, angry, or even betrayed by the news, causing undue stress and tension in your family. However difficult it may seem, telling your teenager about a divorce is a necessary step to help them cope with the changes that are coming their way.
Many parents struggle with this conversation, worrying about how best to express their feelings while keeping their teenager’s emotions in mind. Fortunately, there are ways to make the process smoother, more respectful, and less traumatic for everyone involved.
“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” – Epictetus
In this blog post, we will share some tips on how to tell your teenager you are getting a divorce. We’ll discuss strategies to create a positive environment for the discussion, provide examples of appropriate language to use, and offer advice on how to support your child through this challenging time. With our guidance, you can help your teenager come to terms with this new chapter in your family’s life.
The following advice applies mainly to younger teenagers ranging from ages 13-15. It may also apply to older teenagers as well; however, keep in mind that the response of teenagers varies based on a range of factors such as culture, temperament, values, etc:
Choose the Right Time and Place
Telling your teenager that you are getting a divorce is one of the most challenging conversations that parents can have. It’s important to choose the right time and place for this discussion to ensure that both you and your child feel comfortable and safe.
Consider Your Spouse’s Schedule
If possible, you should discuss with your spouse when they would be available to join the conversation and what scheduling will work best for them. Divorce is already an emotional experience; don’t add on difficulties by choosing a time where one of you is rushing off to another appointment or has just come home after a long day at work.
Choose a Private and Comfortable Location
Choosing an appropriate location can make a huge difference in how easy or difficult it is to break such news to your child. The idea is to find a private place where your family members can communicate without interruptions from others (i.e., other family members, friends). A quiet living room or backyard is usually the best spot when breaking sensitive news like a separation or divorce decision to your teenager.
Avoid Discussing Sensitive Topics During Stressful Times
Many people agree that discussing sensitive information about the divorce process during stressful times or overly emotional periods is a bad move, as individuals’ reactions may become heightened in these situations. Try to give plenty of notice and avoid dropping the bombshell news amidst other stressful circumstances- exams, test results, events surrounding schoolwork, and anything else is likely to get in the way of the communication.
Ensure Both Parties are Well-Rested and Calm
No matter how much you prepare for this conversation, emotions and tension levels are going to run high. With tensions already higher than usual, it’s best to come to the discussion well-rested and in a calm state of mind. Taking deep breaths and maintaining eye contact when speaking with your teen will allow them to feel heard and safe, regardless of what they may be facing or feeling after hearing this news.
“Children need their privacy during the pain of divorce.” -Shobhan Bantwal
All of these tips can help make telling your teenager about your intention to get divorced as smooth as possible. While it won’t take all of the stress out of the situation, providing an open and supportive environment can ensure that everyone involved feels more respected and prepared for whatever comes next.
Be Honest and Direct
Telling your teenager that you are getting a divorce can be one of the most difficult conversations you will ever have. However, it is important to approach this conversation with honesty and directness. You want your teenager to understand that your decision to get a divorce was not made lightly, but rather after careful consideration and reflection.
Avoiding the topic or sugar-coating the truth may only prolong the pain and confusion for your teen. Be honest about why you are getting a divorce and what changes they should expect in their lives as a result. Try to convey this information in clear and simple terms so that there is no confusion or misunderstanding.
“Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway.” –Mother Teresa
Avoid Beating Around the Bush
When telling your teenager about the divorce, it is important to avoid beating around the bush. This means that you do not dance around the subject or try to ease into the conversation before telling them the real reason behind the discussion.
Teens are astute and sensitive individuals who can pick up on cues that something is wrong. If you sit down to have a conversation and act overly emotional or nervous without telling them why, it will make matters worse. Instead, lead with the facts and your reasons for starting the conversation in the first place.
“Clear communication leads to understanding” –John C. Maxwell
Use “I” Statements Instead of “You” Statements
Using “you” statements when communicating with teenagers during an emotionally charged conversation such as announcing a divorce can come off as accusatory or blaming. Therefore, it may be better to use “I” statements instead, which allow you to express your feelings without placing blame on your teenager.
For example, instead of saying “You don’t understand what it’s like to be going through a divorce,” try saying something like: “I am feeling overwhelmed and stressed out because of the changes we are going through as a family.” This type of statement conveys your emotions while also being respectful towards your teenager.
“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said” –Peter Drucker
Be Clear and Specific About Your Concerns
Telling your teenager about your divorce can bring up all sorts of concerns and questions. It is essential to address those issues they might have by being clear and specific about your concerns related to their wellbeing during and after the separation.
You want them to know that they will continue to receive the same level of love and support from both parents even if they are not living together any longer. Another concern could be how this change would impact their schooling or extracurricular activities, and assure them that you will prioritize addressing these matters with them as well.
“Effective communication is 20% what you know and 80% how you feel about what you know” –Jim Rohn
Telling your teenager about your impending divorce may be one of the toughest conversations you ever have with them, but using honesty, directness, clarity, and respectfulness can make it easier to navigate. Remember to prioritize their needs, feelings, and concerns throughout this process so that they feel loved and supported despite the challenges you’re facing as a family.
Provide Reassurance and Support
Divorce can be a stressful experience for everyone involved, especially teenagers. They may feel like their entire world is crumbling, so it’s important to provide them with plenty of reassurance and support during this time.
You can start by letting your teenager know that you still love them and will always be there for them no matter what. It’s also a good idea to remind them that the divorce is not their fault and that both you and your spouse are committed to doing what’s best for them.
- Assure your teenager that they can talk to you about anything. Let them express their feelings openly without fear of retribution or judgement.
- Be reassuring and positive about the future. Even though things might be difficult right now, let them know that you’re confident that everything will work out in the end.
- Help them maintain consistency by sticking to familiar routines as much as possible. This means keeping regular schedules for meals, bedtime, and other activities.
Providing reassurance and support can go a long way towards helping your teenager feel more secure and less anxious during this challenging time.
Express Your Love and Commitment
To help alleviate any fears your teen may have about the divorce, it’s vital to express your ongoing love and commitment to them. Letting them know that they’re still loved and valued can make all the difference in how they cope with this situation.
Tell them frequently that you love them and how proud you are of them. Make sure you spend quality time with them, whether it’s going on a hike, cooking together, or just watching a movie at home. Activities like these demonstrate your continued commitment to building a loving relationship with your teen.
Remember to be patient and understanding if your teenager reacts negatively or seems distant at times. Everyone copes with stress differently, so give them the space they need while also making it clear that you’re always there for them whenever they’re ready to talk.
Listen to Your Spouse’s Feelings and Thoughts
An essential part of coping with divorce is being able to communicate effectively with your spouse and establish a positive co-parenting relationship. Listening to each other’s feelings and thoughts can help to create a more collaborative approach to parenting during this challenging time.
Taking an active interest in your spouse’s perspective shows your commitment to creating a respectful and cooperative co-parenting dynamic. This means listening attentively to what they have to say without interrupting or becoming defensive.
- Practice active listening techniques such as summarizing what your partner has said and asking questions to clarify their point of view.
- Acknowledge their feelings and validate their experience by saying things like “I understand how difficult this must be for you,” or “I appreciate you sharing your thoughts with me.”
- Avoid getting into arguments or blaming each other for the situation. Focus on finding solutions together rather than rehashing past mistakes or disagreements.
Your willingness to listen and work collaboratively can go a long way towards providing stability and security for your teenager during this transition period.
Offer Encouragement and Affirmation
In addition to expressing love and support, offering encouragement and affirmation can help teenagers maintain a positive outlook despite the challenges of divorce.
This means recognizing and acknowledging their strengths and achievements, no matter how small. It’s easy for teens to feel overwhelmed during this time, so highlighting their successes can give them a sense of accomplishment and self-worth.
- Celebrate accomplishments like getting good grades or making the varsity team.
- Compliment them on their personal qualities such as kindness, empathy, or creativity.
- Avoid comparing them unfavorably to other kids or siblings. Focus on celebrating their unique strengths and abilities instead.
Your positive feedback and support can help boost your teen’s confidence and encourage them to pursue their goals despite the obstacles they may be facing.
Be Patient and Understanding
Finally, it’s important to always approach your teenager with patience and understanding during this difficult time. Divorce is a process that takes time, and everyone copes with it differently. Your teenager may have feelings of anger, sadness, confusion, or fear.
To best support them, give them space when needed but also make sure they know you are available to listen if they want to talk. Try not to take any negative behaviors personally, provided there aren’t risks involved – remember that your teenager might be lashing out due to stress rather than hostility towards you.
- Remember: Your love for them is paramount, no matter what negative behavior shows up.
- Show by example how one can handle challenging situations with maturity. Be calm and respectful even when dealing with disagreements related to parenting matters.
- If things get too overwhelming, consider family therapy where all members of the family are expected to contribute thoughts and opinions in working through these challenges together.
Taking the time to understand your teenager’s perspective and react calmly and positively will show them that you’re committed to supporting them throughout this transitional period.
Avoid Blaming or Criticizing Your Spouse
When telling your teenager that you are getting a divorce, it is important to avoid blaming or criticizing your spouse. This can put your teen in a difficult position and create unnecessary tension.
In order to avoid this, try to focus on the issues at hand rather than placing blame on one another. By doing this, you can show your child that both parties share responsibility for the situation. This will help them understand that the divorce is not just one person’s fault, and they may be less likely to take sides or hold grudges against either parent.
“Blame lays the groundwork for hatred, which is poison to any healthy relationship.” -Steve Maraboli
Focus on the Issue, Not the Person
It can be easy to get caught up in personal attacks when emotions are running high during divorce proceedings. However, it is crucial to keep the conversation focused on the issue at hand: the end of your marriage and what that means for your family dynamic moving forward.
Stay calm and communicate the reasons why you have decided to separate as clearly and honestly as possible. If your teenager has questions, make sure to answer them thoughtfully and without placing blame. Speak about how the two of you hope to handle future challenges surrounding custody, finances, and other concerns.
“Letting go doesn’t mean that you don’t care about someone anymore. It’s just realizing that the only person you really have control over is yourself.” -Deborah Reber
Avoid Using Negative Language or Tone
The language and tone you use when discussing your divorce with your teen can set the tone for how they view the situation moving forward. Avoid negative language or an angry tone, as this can create a sense of fear and insecurity in your teenager.
Instead, practice using positive language that is empowering to both parties. For example, instead of saying “I can’t stand her anymore,” try saying “We have decided that we are better off separate.” This puts the emphasis on moving forward rather than looking back and assigning blame.
“Positive anything is better than negative nothing.” -Elbert Hubbard
Acknowledge Your Own Contribution to the Problem
In order to help your teen understand why you’ve decided to separate, it’s important to acknowledge your own contribution to the issues at hand. Be willing to admit any mistakes or shortcomings you had in the relationship and empathize with your child about how challenging it may be for them to hear about your divorce.
By acknowledging your part in the situation, you convey to your teen that growth and learning from past actions are an integral part of life. It can make it easier for them to do the same when working through their own challenges in the future.
“When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” -Alexander Graham Bell
Find Solutions Together
Your teenagers will be most affected by the changes stemming from your separation. Because of this, involving them in discussions surrounding custody arrangements, scheduling conflicts, and overall plans for the family moving forward can help ease potential fears they might harbor regarding these changes.
Try to find solutions together as a family unit, taking into account each person’s needs, wants, and beliefs. While finding common ground can be difficult during divorce proceedings, working towards solutions as a family unit can provide a template for how everyone can work together in the future.
“The best way to predict your future is to create it.” -Abraham Lincoln
Telling your teenager about a divorce can be an emotional and difficult experience. It’s essential to avoid blaming or criticizing your spouse, stay focused on the issues at hand, monitor your language, acknowledge your contribution, and find solutions collaboratively as a family unit throughout this process.
Encourage Open Communication
If you are going through a divorce, one of the most difficult conversations you will have to have is telling your teenager about it. It’s important to encourage open communication and make them feel comfortable enough to express their feelings. Here are some tips to help make the conversation go smoothly:
Listen Without Interrupting
When telling your teenager about your impending divorce, it’s important to listen without interrupting. Let your teen speak their mind, and give them time to process what they are hearing. Interrupting may cause them to shut down emotionally and not want to communicate further.
“Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee, and just as hard to sleep after.” -Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Ask Questions to Gain Understanding
Don’t assume that you know exactly how your teenager feels about your divorce. Ask questions to gain an understanding of their thoughts and emotions. You can ask questions like “How do you feel about this?” or “What concerns do you have?” This shows that you care about their opinion and allows for a more constructive conversation.
Validate Your Spouse’s Feelings
Your spouse has the right to his/her emotions whether they be angry, resentful, or scared. When communicating with your teenager, refrain from putting your spouse down or making him/her look bad. Instead, validate their feelings and explain that sometimes grown-ups have irreconcilable differences which lead them to splitting up.
“The biggest communication problem is we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply.” -Stephen Covey
The key to talking to your teenager about getting a divorce is to focus on listening and validating their emotions. It’s also important to avoid blaming your spouse or putting them in a negative light. By maintaining open lines of communication, you can help your teenager better navigate the transition process and help them move forward with their life.
Consider Seeking Professional Help
It’s never easy to tell your teenager that you are getting a divorce. The news can be devastating and overwhelming, especially if they have no idea it was coming. This is why it’s essential to consider seeking professional help before breaking the news to your teen.
A therapist can offer guidance on how to navigate the conversation with your teenager and provide tools for managing their emotions throughout the process.
“Seeing a therapist can also assist parents in conveying this difficult information in an age-appropriate way and minimize any potential negative effects on their children,” says Dr. Rachele Marshak, a licensed psychologist specializing in child psychology and family therapy.
Therapy sessions can equip both parents and teenagers with the necessary coping skills and provide them with a safe space to express their thoughts and feelings about their changing family dynamics.
Research and Find a Qualified Therapist
Before choosing a therapist, take some time to research and find one who specializes in family counseling. Qualifications and experience should be your top priorities when selecting a professional to work with during this life-changing event.
“Do your research ahead of time and look for therapists who specialize in family matters or marital breakups,” recommends Holly Zink, a psychotherapist based in California.
You could also seek referrals from friends, relatives, or trusted healthcare professionals. You may also want to check with your insurance provider to see if they cover therapy services, as many do. If not, there are resources available such as sliding-scale fee clinics and community mental health centers offering affordable therapy services.
Be Open to the Idea of Couple’s Therapy
In addition to individual therapy sessions, couples preparing for a divorce can greatly benefit from attending couple’s therapy before breaking the news to their teenagers.
“While it’s important to keep in mind that not every marriage can be saved, especially if one or both parties already have one foot out the door. However, when they work, these sessions allow husbands and wives an opportunity to present a united front,” says Alexandra H. Solomon, Ph.D., clinical psychologist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University.
Couple’s therapy is designed to help couples communicate better, understand each other’s perspectives, and improve problem-solving skills. It also offers a neutral place for parents to discuss co-parenting after divorce.
Seek Help Early Before Issues Escalate
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, issues arise even with seeking professional help. This could mean conflicts between parents, escalating tensions with your teenager, or changes in behavior. It’s essential to address any concerns as early as possible before they turn into larger problems.
Judy Wallerstein, Ph.D., founder of California-based Center of Families in Transition and author of Second Chances: Men Women & Children a Decade After Divorce states, “Children whose parents divorced experienced more mental health difficulties than those who stayed married. But if parents cooperated rather than litigated, children had fewer difficulties.”
To avoid further harm, seek help immediately from professionals should you observe any behavioral shifts in your teenager. Sudden weight loss, frequent mood swings, and difficulty concentrating are all signs indicating trouble coping up with parental separation.
Telling your teenager about your impending divorce is never easy, but taking initiative steps such as seeking professional help will smoothen the process for everyone involved. Get ahead of emotional turmoil by researching counselors highly rated for family counseling services. Remember, being open-minded to couple’s therapy may benefit your teenagers’ overall well-being in times of uncertainty. Lastly, do not hesitate to ask for help early if you suspect your teenager is struggling as ultimately, it’s in the best interest of their mental and emotional health.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can you prepare yourself to have this conversation with your teenager?
Before talking to your teenager about the divorce, take some time to process your own emotions. Plan what you want to say and how to say it. Choose a time and place where you both feel comfortable. Practice active listening, and be willing to answer any questions your teen may have.
What should you say to your teenager during this conversation?
Be honest and straightforward about the divorce, but keep it age-appropriate. Reassure your teenager that the divorce is not their fault and that both parents still love them. Encourage them to express their feelings and validate their emotions. Discuss any changes that will occur and what the future may look like.
How can you make sure your teenager feels supported and loved during this difficult time?
Show empathy and offer emotional support. Let your teenager know that you are there for them and that their feelings matter. Avoid blaming or criticizing the other parent. Provide stability and routine, and try to maintain consistency in their daily life. Consider seeking professional help if needed.
What are some common reactions from teenagers and how can you handle them?
Teenagers may experience a range of emotions such as anger, sadness, guilt, and confusion. They may act out or withdraw from family and friends. Listen actively, validate their feelings, and avoid minimizing or dismissing their emotions. Offer support and understanding, and consider seeking professional help if needed.
How can you continue to communicate with your teenager about the divorce and its impact on the family?
Maintain open and honest communication with your teenager. Check in with them regularly and be willing to listen. Continue to validate their feelings and offer support. Avoid using your teenager as a messenger between you and your ex-spouse. Consider family therapy to help navigate the challenges of divorce and co-parenting.