parenting

5 Tips for Talking to Your Kids About Divorce

teen girl crying on couch with parents fighting
teen girl crying on couch with parents fighting

teen girl crying on couch with parents fighting

We live in a world where the answers to almost all of our questions lie no further than the tips of our fingers.

How amazing is that?

By simply picking up our smartphone or sitting down at a computer, we can ask just about any question and instantly receive an answer. And few people have more to gain from instant access to information than us as parents.

We ask things like, “How do I sleep train my baby? Should my child go to public school or private? How much screen time should my kids be getting?”

And why wouldn’t we? When caring for lives other than our own, we do our research! We take classes (like our FREE WEBINAR!), read books, and yes, search the internet. Because when it comes to raising our kids, we want to be well informed.

Some parents look for advice on how to deal with toddler tantrums while others may be curious how they can help their children study better.

But there are a select few who may find their Google searches going a bit further and digging a little deeper into new territory that is, quite frankly, rather uncomfortable. 

It’s a place no one wants to go, and certainly doesn’t plan to, but a reality nonetheless. I’m talking about those parents contemplating divorce. Of course, with children involved they are now stuck wondering, “How are we going to break the news to our kids?”

If you and your spouse are considering divorce, I can assume that your children are your number one priority. Maybe you’re curious how this will affect them and wondering what life looks like parenting separately?

While divorce is never an easy topic for any couple to discuss, it’s important to remember that children thrive on certainty, knowing where they stand with their family, and the assurance that they are safe and well cared for. 

In order to break the news as gently, yet effectively as possible, follow these 5 tips when the time comes to talk with your kids about divorce.

Tip #1: Prepare in Advance

Divorce is nothing to take lightly. And when it comes to telling your kids the news? You MUST do the prep work! It’s absolutely essential that both you and your soon-to-be ex are on the same page before you even think about telling your kids.

So what can you do? Come up with a game plan! 

First of all, know your ultimate priority: To ensure your children know they are still loved and will continue to be cared for. The relationship between you and your spouse is ending, NOT the relationship each of you have with your kids.

Then, anticipate what questions they may ask and be prepared to answer them. Remember, you may see the big picture and can understand why divorce is the best option, but your children may have a more difficult time understanding.

They can only see what’s in front of them, and if you aren’t on solid ground, they’ll feel it! They need to know that they’ll be taken care of and it’s your responsibility as their parents to make sure they have that assurance.

Finally, decide not only when you are going to tell them about the divorce but how you are going to bring it up. Your teen is going to take the news differently than your toddler, so it’s important to understand how to talk to them based on their age.

Preschool (Ages 2-5)

It’s easy to assume that children this young will be least affected by the news of divorce. After all, will they even remember it?

But preschool-aged children rely on their parents for absolutely everything–food, shelter, love, and stability!

Not only will the news of divorce rock them in a significant way, they’re also at an incredibly self-focused age where they may perceive the separation to be their fault. It’s easy for them to make the leap from mom left dad to mom left me. 

You’ll want to remind them of their own significance and offer plenty of reassurance. They will always be loved and cared for–by both of their parents. 

Living apart means you may also want to support a two-home concept. Nix the idea of “our house” and “dad’s house”. Your child will benefit most by seeing both houses as home because that’s exactly what they are–his home! 

Finally, be prepared to answer a lot of questions over time. Divorce is a really hard concept for little minds to grasp, so it’s important to be patient and help them understand in their own time and way.

Younger Kids (Ages 5-9)

By this age your children may be more in tune with processing bigger emotions, but the concept of divorce can still be hard for them to fully understand.

Again, they may fall into the trap of blaming themselves for mom and dad separating. They may wonder, Did dad move out because I misbehaved? Did mom leave because she’s mad at me?

Be ready to discuss how the news makes them feel. Are they sad? Anxious? Angry?

You’ll need to talk them through what’s on their mind then come up with concrete ideas on how you can help them manage those feelings.

Older Kids (Ages 10 and up)

Older kids have the benefit of a greater understanding of divorce, but it can also feel as though they have the most to lose.

After all, they’ve spent an entire lifetime under one roof and now that’s all about to change.

They may also worry about the important relationships they’ve established. Not only how will their relationship with mom and dad change, but what about their friends, relatives, and teachers?

As much as you want the divorce to only be about you and your spouse, the reality of the situation is many people may feel the ripple effect. 

Because of their age, you can get more specific. Give them a clear explanation of what it means to divorce and talk openly about how custody works.

Of course, with greater detail may come more in-depth questions. Be ready to give them truthful answers.

As always, never forget to mention that their relationship with you will not change. No matter how old they are, it doesn’t hurt to remind them that divorce is an adult concept–parents don’t divorce their kids.

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Tip #2: Break the News Together (And to Everyone!)

When kids are involved, divorce is a family matter. Plain and simple. And when it comes to breaking the news that mom and dad are splitting up, you need to do it together–with everyone–if possible!

Now, I know it may be tempting to pull your oldest aside and give him the news before his younger siblings–after all, he’s so mature for his age! But I promise you this will only do more harm than good. You’d just be giving him a heavy burden he has no business bearing. 

When the time comes, gather everyone together and tell them at the same time. Make sure you pick a time of day that isn’t rushed.

The last thing you want to do is drop this bomb on your kids and then rush them off to soccer practice. They’ll need plenty of time to digest the information, ask questions, and grieve the sudden loss of the family as they’ve always known it.

Then, start gently. 

You may try, “Before we tell you our news, we want to remind you how much we love and care for you. We are, and always will be, a family. It will just look a little different.”

Lay out what life for them will start to look like. Will they spend weekends with dad and weekdays with mom? Will mom be moving into a new house while dad stays in this one?

Of course, try not to overload them with too much information. Give them the high-level details they need to know and then allow them to ask questions about the rest later–on their own time and in their own way. 

Remember, this is going to be a profoundly significant moment in your children’s lives. Not only will having the whole family together for support be instrumental in how they take the news, but this will also be the first of many instances over the years to come that the two of you should come together for the sake of your children.

Remember, just because you aren’t the best as romantic partners, doesn’t mean you cannot still be wonderful parents…together! 

Pro Tip: Parenting apart doesn’t have to be a hassle! Positive Parenting Solutions Members can check out my Battle-Tested Blueprint: Divorce & Parenting Apart for more surefire tips and tricks on how to be the best co-parent you can be.

Tip #3: Put Your Hurts Aside

As is often the case with divorce, emotional hurt may be running deep. 

Perhaps you’re dealing with the aftermath of an affair or a sudden loss of trust. Whatever the case may be, when such extreme pain exists between you and your spouse, it can be hard to look at them, let alone speak to them. Still, now is not the time to play the blame game–especially in front of the kids.

When it comes to breaking the news about your divorce, your kids don’t just want you to be mature, they need you to. 

Here are a few things you definitely DON’T want to do:

DON’T use this time to pick a fight. You’ll want to be as calm and level headed as possible when you let them know. They’re going to be hurt, angry, and scared. Seeing their parents fight would only add to the problem.

Pro Tip: I understand that for many couples going through the process of divorce, being civil toward one another can feel like an unthinkable task. Should you find it impossible to keep the peace in person, you may consider trying a free app–such as coParenter or Truece–designed to help structure communication for co-parents. 

DON’T pit your children against the other parent. There are, arguably, no two people in the entire world your child loves more than you and your spouse. While your feelings for your soon-to-be ex may be down in the gutter, your child’s aren’t.

And that’s the way it should stay, because there’s nothing more unfair to a child who is just learning that his parents are about to divorce than being forced to choose between the two. 

christina mcghee quote

And finally, DON’T blame the other parent for your marriage coming to an end. 

If you’re going through a particularly troublesome separation, I understand that this can seem nearly impossible. You’re hurt, angry, and quite frankly, you do blame them for the marriage coming to an end! But this is not the time to bring it up. 

Right now, who’s at fault for the demise of the marriage is of absolutely no importance. What is important? Your children. 

Leave the blame behind.

Tip #4: Remind Them of the Constants

When it comes to divorce, the only certainty is uncertainty–especially for kids.

They may be wondering, “Will I live with mom or dad? What school will I go to? Did I cause this?”

In the midst of all the wonder and chaos, don’t forget to remind them of the constants–the things that won’t be changing. 

Again, divorce doesn’t apply to children. Reassure them of everything that will stay the same. Will mom still be there to tuck them in at night? Will dad still make all of the baseball games? Lay those certainties out and really emphasize their importance to you.

You may say, “We understand that this can be a scary time, but we promise that our love for you is constant. Nothing you say or do can change that.”

Give them your word…then stick to it.

Tip #5: Promise to Walk the Walk (Then Do It!)

So you’ve broken the news and made the ultimate promise–to love your kids the same as before, guaranteeing you’re still their parent, now and forever. But what happens after the talk is over? 

Keep that promise! Now’s the time you walk the walk, making a point to actively show your kids you meant every single word. 

Want to ensure they continue to feel loved and cared for? Then say I love you and say it often. You can never remind them enough. Give them a hug, a high-five, a pat on the back. Spend quality time together, even though you may have less of it.

Now that your time with them is divided, you’ll want to make the most of every minute you have with them. What a wonderful chance to engage in regular Mind, Body, and Soul Time each day you are together (you can even double up if you want!). 

Helpful Hint: Your time with your kids is important, but don’t be a strict time monger! Try to be flexible with your ex when it comes to sharing time with the kids. Positive Parenting Solutions Members, be sure to check out Christina McGhee’s helpful tips on how to divide time fairly in the Battle-Tested Blueprint: Divorce & Parenting Apart.

Want to know another great way to show you care? Take your house and make it a home

The walls may change but your routines can stay the same. Eat dinner as a family, host family game nights, decorate the kids’ rooms–whatever you did before the divorce, keep it up.

You may be down a parent, but your kids will appreciate the effort you take to ensure their comfort while staying with you.

Final Thoughts

Oh sweet friend, from the bottom of my heart, let me just say how sorry I am that you are having to face such a difficult task.

Breaking any bad news to our children is difficult enough, but the news of mom and dad splitting up is especially hard–for both them and you! 

As always, we are here to support you on your parenting journey–single or together–so please don’t hesitate to reach out if we can help!

Resources for Talking to Kids About Race & Racism

White hands and black hands hold each other
White hands and black hands hold each other
White hands and black hands hold each other

Here at Positive Parenting Solutions, it has always been our mission to help families thrive and help parents achieve “parenting peace.”

Our business is built on education — we know that when parents are equipped with effective tools, they can become the parents they always knew they could be, and our world becomes a better place.

Now more than ever, we have an opportunity and an obligation to further our education on the difficult topics of race and racism–for the sake of our kids, ourselves, and our world.

Below is a list of resources that may help you and your family — from how to talk to kids about racism and the disturbing images they may have seen — to books parents can read to educate themselves — to book recommendations for kids.

Resources For Talking to Your Kids:

Books For Parents to Read:

Books For Kids:

Please know we are here for you. We continue to wish you peace — peace in your home, your community, and the world.

Does Paying Kids for Good Grades Pay Off?

young asian girl counting money at a computer desk
young asian girl counting money at a computer desk

young asian girl counting money at a computer desk

Education is a gateway to success. It’s why parents in New York hire consultants for preschool. It’s why young kids in China are writing resumes. And it’s why American high school students fret over competitive college admissions. 

Parents know that the better the education, the greater their child’s success may be. They also know that numerous achievements, like a high GPA, can help secure that success. Some colleges even value a high GPA above all other application components. 

The importance of good grades can put a lot of pressure on students and their parents. Many families turn to monetary incentives like paying their kids to make those grades. (Or, like in recent news, there are the notorious and wealthy few willing to bribe administrators for admissions.) 

Offering a child fifty dollars in exchange for an excellent report card seems like a small price to pay for a child’s entire future.

But it’s not that simple. Paying for grades isn’t just a harmless means to an end that puts a little fun money in our kids’ pockets. 

Paying for grades actually robs kids of much greater wealth. It doesn’t matter whether your child is headed for preschool, community college, or the Ivy League: True, long-lasting success requires skills that money can’t buy.

Our Ultimate Guide to Motivating Your Kids takes money out of motivation with effective, long-term strategies. Start using them today!

Here are 6 reasons why paying for grades isn’t the best way to set our kids up for life-long success:

1. Payment Breeds Entitlement

You may be thinking that paying for grades, overall, can’t be that bad. If it gets your kids into college, where is the real harm? Maybe YOU were paid for grades and it worked well for you. Now, you want to pay it forward and invest in your children’s careers with a small down payment. Plus, young adults get paid for their work when they finally land jobs–so what’s the difference?

Before we continue, let me ask…Do you pay your kids to clean their rooms? To take out the trash? To take time out of playing to sit on the potty? 

Paying our kids for something that is a necessary part of life–including studying–is a dangerous game.

paying for grades robs children of greater wealth

Are you paid for tidying up the house? Making dinner for the family? Keeping the maintenance up on your car? Organizing the chauffeur schedule to get all the kids to their practices on time?

The truth is, certain things need to be done without compensation. Anything else is a path towards entitlement

The newest generations of young adults–Millennials and Gen Z-ers–are getting a bad rap. They have great skills, but some expect a lot in return. In many ways, this is good–like the fact that they’re forcing companies to create more balanced work-life environments. But in other ways, expectations can lean too much towards entitlement.

Studying may seem a lot like holding an actual job, complete with time-management and hard work. But the more our kids can do necessary work without applause–or a small paycheck–the more conditioned they’ll be for future jobs. They’ll exemplify a solid work ethic by caring about their efforts and self-improvement–and this will make them all the more successful.  

Their transition to the rest of the “real world” will also be less of a wake-up call. Just like us, our kids will never get paid for doing their taxes, cleaning the bathrooms, and raising their children (to name a few minor things).

2. Rewards Decrease Motivation

Some parents might argue that the last time their 6-year-old ate her asparagus, it was only because of the dessert she was promised. Or that their preteen–who hates his new braces–only smiled for the expensive family photoshoot because he was bribed with a new video game.

Yes, rewards DO motivate to some degree in the short-term–but this motivation isn’t sustainable. Kids will eventually want us to up the ante, which leads to increased bargaining and appeasement. One M&M will turn into 5. Ten dollars per ‘A’ will turn into twenty. 

Their motivation for a quick-fix is short-term and external rather than long-term and internal

Also, when we offer rewards, it sends our kids the message that we don’t have confidence they can achieve good grades without added incentive.

This is our cue for providing Encouragement. 

Encouragement is helping our kids feel empowered by their choices, like focusing on the effort they put into a grade. It can start small at first, like the extra fifteen minutes they spent studying the night before that helped bring their ‘D’ test score up to a ‘B’. 

“Your work earned you that ‘B’! You should feel really proud of the extra effort you put in!

This encouragement helps connect effort to results and gives kids a hit of confidence and power. 

Doling out encouragement isn’t the same as sugary compliments and unhelpful praise, like “you’re just so smart!” or “you’re so good at everything!” It may seem beneficial, but praise like this is just another reward in disguise.

Shallow praise makes kids feel good in the moment, but it also tells them they don’t need to try any harder because they’re already “on top.” Encouragement, on the other hand, focuses less on perfection and more on improvement. It also gives kids the confidence to move forward towards their next goals. 

Encouragement focuses on improvement quote

Pro Tip: For our Parenting Success System Members, please check out (or review) our Battle-Tested Blueprint, Say NO to Rewards and Praise and learn how to shift your language to empower your children.

3. Paying For Grades Deflects From Good Habits

Just like connecting good grades to effort, helping kids establish good study habits is a major advantage to their futures. 

Instead of promising your teen extra allowance for a successful semester, you can help him focus on developing a homework plan. This might include proper time management, the removal of distractions, and the use of a When-Then Routine.

When-Then Routines helps kids complete the less fun things before the more enjoyable parts of their day. 

You can say, “Emily, when you’ve finished studying for your test, then you can watch TV.” Or, When you’ve finished your project, then you can hang out with your friends.” The then isn’t a special privilege but rather a regularly enjoyed activity. Plus, if the When-Then becomes a routine standard, kids are even more likely to cooperate. 

Get ultimate guide to motivating kids

Effective studying is invaluable because it speeds up and simplifies the learning process. It shifts the focus from the grades themselves to the practice of studying. In this way, the letters on the report card aren’t the motivator. The routine and hard work put in each day (with a little dose of encouragement from you) are all your child needs to feel successful. 

On the other hand, the promise of money isn’t guaranteed to teach these habits–nor does earning an ‘A’ without a good amount of self-discipline. In fact, paying for grades can encourage kids to cut corners and cheat the system. 

Pro Tip: For Parenting Success System Members, review our Battle-Tested Blueprint, The 3 R’s of School Success. 

4. Rewards Foster Laziness, Lying, and Cheating

Often, our dear kids seem nothing but lazy. But there’s often a lot more to this than meets the eye. 

Most kids are bogged down with extracurricular activities and are in major need of extra sleep these days.

Many also fail to see the value of studying.

“Laziness may often be the result of there being too much of a disconnect between what a person is asked to do and why that task is important.” – Daniel Marsten, Ph.D., Psychology Today

Unless we help kids understand that studying is beneficial for more than just good grades, (like the development of life-long skills and the absorption of valuable and interesting information) they may be inclined to take short cuts. And promising fifty dollars for every ‘A’ (or whatever the current going rate is) further increases this short line approach. 

Because kids still want that money to fund their Spotify premium account and to purchase the latest and greatest ripped jeans.

Short cuts might include lying about a report card or exaggerating a ‘C’ on a history exam. Kids may even go so far as to cheat. This could be asking a friend to write an English paper for them or getting the answers to the chemistry test from a student who took it last year. 

Dangling rewards for good grades can lead kids towards unwise decisions. While all children need to make mistakes–like learning that lying or cheating never ends well–they can learn in less harmful ways.

5. We Should Avoid the Avoidance of Failure 

I get it–good grades are important. We don’t want to see our kids fail and we certainly don’t want to see that failure–in the form of ‘F’s, ‘D’s, and ‘C’s–threaten their future. 

Paying our kids for good grades may help them secure these grades, but allowing them to fail without added incentive is an even greater benefit. 

In a competitive world, kids aren’t always comfortable making mistakes. Or losing. Or even getting second place. But learning to embrace failure, learn from it, and pick back up again is an imperative skill. It’s a situation kids will find themselves in again and again in life, and letting them practice their resilience before they’re off on their own gives them an advantage. 

Childhood is the perfect time to let kids fail, because the older they get, the more will be at stake. A child with a safety net throughout childhood will fall much farther and harder as an adult than a child that’s allowed to fail. 

Kids need to know that if they don’t do their work, they’ll fail. They also need to know failure isn’t the end of the world. Finally, they need to realize that the real way to combat failure is to adapt and try again. 

Learning to recover from failure can shift a child’s mindset from “Working hard for a good grade isn’t worth the risk of getting a bad one” to “If I don’t do well, it’s okay. I’ll work even harder next time.”

6. We Want to Focus on the Journey–Not the Destination 

We all know the saying. You know, the one that reminds us to enjoy the process? To seize the day? It’s the advice that if we focus only on our end-goals, we overlook all the other special moments along the way. 

It’s just that it can be hard to hear “enjoy the journey” when the process is studying.

The thing is, though–it’s actually true. 

If kids respect, or dare I say, enjoy studying, they’ll be more willing to do it without a payoff.

We can help by trying to make learning interesting. Maybe it’s talking about the mind-bending theories of quantum physics (like the idea that one particle can be in two places at a time?! Hello, multiverse!) with otherwise boring physics homework. It could be going to see a funny, modern take on a Shakespearean play. Or, it could be teaching fractions while measuring the ingredients for homemade cookies.

Kids can still celebrate getting a good final grade, but we want them to feel inspired by the smaller, daily things they learn and experience along the way. 

Final Thoughts

It’s true that money can buy a lot. Having money equates to many advantages, and to a certain extent, we can’t live without it. We also need our kids to be financially independent one day. Good education and good jobs help make that happen. 

But let me ask you this: is focusing on a financial profit the message we want to send our kids? 

Instead, let’s teach our children that good grades are more than a means to an end and that studying can be both interesting and empowering. Let’s instill the fact that effective studying produces skills like hard work, determination, confidence, and a great set of habits–all of which enable and increase long-term success. 

As long as we provide an atmosphere of encouragement, and never bribery, our kids will be fortified by skills and motivations that are truly sustainable. 

And until we receive that first, jaw-dropping college tuition bill–it won’t cost us a single penny. 

Want more detailed tips and tricks? Check out Amy’s Ultimate Guide to Motivating Your Kids. You’ll learn how your language affects your child’s motivation and what steps YOU can take to increase their cooperation. 

“We’re Moving?!” 7 Tips to Help Kids Thrive During A Move

Little Girl Holding a Box with parents holding boxes in background
Little Girl Holding a Box with parents holding boxes in background

Little Girl Holding a Box with parents holding boxes in background

Houses are where memories are made. Within their walls, children learn to smile, laugh, and love. The floor supports their bare feet, the closets beckon games of hide-and-seek, and the garage provides the acoustics for their fledgling teen band.

Houses–are homes.

Some of us spend our entire childhood in one home, letting our roots grow strong and wide. 

Others, however, have to relocate.

It could be a parent’s new job in a different state or a divorce forcing new living arrangements. Maybe it’s a foreclosure or a terminated lease. No matter the reason, relocation can be painful. It’s uprooting from a place of comfort–a shrine of memories–and rerooting in a new place strange and unfamiliar. 

And then there are the boxes. So. Many. Boxes. 

It’s so easy for kids and parents alike to get overwhelmed by the stress of it all. 

So how can we assist them with the transition? How do we convince them that when we move, we aren’t just losing a home and all that goes with it–but gaining a new one?

The following strategies can help ease the stress–and the fears–a relocation may be causing your family. 

1. Keep Things Routine (When You Can)

The turmoil of moving means items are in constant disarray and a huge checklist of to-do items hangs constantly over our heads. It means tears will sneak up at the smallest triggers and emotional goodbyes will engage us at every turn.

Luckily, the chaos of moving can be balanced by keeping what can be controlled routine.

Maybe it’s a consistent bedtime routine for our 3-year-old–with the same stories, prayers, and snuggles–despite sleeping on an air mattress in an empty new house. Maybe it’s keeping our high school student’s homework and extracurricular activities consistent in his last week at his current school.

For routines that can’t be maintained during a move, like family dinners around the dinner table, evening bath time in a shower-only hotel, or weekly playdates with neighbors, we can do our best to quickly reinvent similar routines–or establish new ones–once re-settled. 

Moving is generally a long process. It’s full of daily, unrelenting change for weeks–even months–at a time. Routine, at its best and most basic, gives kids something comfortable and reliable when all else is different.

2. Create A Decision-Rich Environment 

When torn from their home, school, and friends, kids may view their lives as spinning completely out of control. In truth, they generally don’t have any control over where and why they are moving. Fortunately, we can combat this by allowing kids to call some of the shots.

Creating a Decision-Rich Environment–just one of the 36 tools in my 7-Step Parenting Success System course–gives kids this opportunity. It allows them to make choices that empower them and offers a portion of the control they crave.

Children may feel empowered by choosing their room in the new house, picking-out new sheets and decorations, and determining the new school activities they’d like to be a part of. They can be involved in meal planning–even if some of those meals are take-out.

Although they probably can’t hand-pick which neighborhood they’ll be living in or which school they’ll be attending, we can still involve them in the process of house-hunting, neighborhood exploration, and school tours before deciding where to live. Their opinion may or may not determine the final choice, but either way they will know that it is valued.

Moving is also a time to go through toys, clothes, and household goods and decide what to keep, give, and throw away. Involving kids in this process allows them to determine what they are willing to part with and what they can’t live without. In fact, purging items–Marie Kondo-style–can be as therapeutic for kids as it is for adults. 

By choosing to say goodbye to her softball trophies, your teenage daughter may reach some closure over having to leave her beloved team.

By throwing away some of his less refined artwork, an 8-year-old may be ready to say goodbye to his favorite art teacher.

Even a preschooler can decide what toys she’d like to throw out or give away. Not only is this process empowering–because we’re trusting our kids to make their own choices–but it can offer closure and leave them grateful for what they’ve had.

If we give children permission to decide what to keep, however, they may choose to hoard everything. It could be they aren’t yet willing to part with these sentimental items–which is, ultimately, their decision. In this case, we can go through their things after the move when things feel less emotional. 

After all, we can only handle so much change at one time. 

3. Talk it Out/Communicate Openly

Moving is consistently considered one of the most stressful things a person can do. Because of this, encouraging open communication is crucial. 

If our kids want to express their concerns, we need to listen. If they don’t want to share, we can let them know we’re always available if–and when–they’re ready to talk. 

Verbalizing issues, or even just admitting and respecting that they are sad (like Riley does after moving to San Francisco in Disney/Pixar’s poignant movie Inside Out) is one of the best ways kids process big emotions. 

If children are older and don’t love communicating, we can encourage them to talk openly with their friends or even a counselor. They can even keep a daily, private journal. It’s just important they find a healthy outlet so their feelings aren’t pent-up. 

We can also promote our kids’ communication by opening up ourselves. If we can admit our own difficulties with a move, kids will likely feel less alone and discouraged by overpowering emotions. 

helping kids with relocation quote

We also need to be upfront by sharing the news and details about a move with our kids immediately. Hiding or withholding information that they eventually discover might make them feel like relocating is worse than it is–or something to fear. Also, sharing the news immediately gives kids more time to come to grips with the transition. They need–and deserve–as much time as we do to process their emotions.

4. Be Patient and Empathize

Imagine that your 12-year-old was struggling all last year with the transition from elementary to middle school. She was fraught with emotions from puberty and the pressure of making friends. 

You’re beyond relieved when you finally see her find a group of kids that she likes and cliques with. 

Then one afternoon–after your spouse secures a long-sought-after job–you’re forced to break the news to her; the family has to move–by next month–to the other side of the country.

The news might be unbelievable, devastating. You may hear phrases like “my life is over” and “how could you do this to me?”

It’s easy to feel hurt and angry when kids unleash backlash over a relocation–especially when it’s outside of our own control. But rather than fighting fire with fire, we can use patience and empathy to diffuse the battle. This might even help dispel any resentment our kids are harboring towards us.

We can say things like, “I know how scary this must be for you. Moving is incredibly hard. I know you’ll miss your friends.” 

Or, “You have a right to feel sad and frustrated.”

Teens and tweens might struggle much more with a move than their younger counterparts. For older kids, friends and a sense of communal belonging outside of the family are imperative. But, moving at any age can even leave short and long-term impacts when kids don’t feel supported.

Many military dependents, for example, are forced to move a handful or more times throughout their upbringing. The PCS (Permanent Change of Station) process may become familiar to them, but it rarely becomes less challenging. The difficulty of maintaining long-distance friendships, feeling a sense of belonging, and adjusting to new school academics can be relentless.

Remembering the difficulties our children face during relocation puts ourselves in their shoes and shows the compassion they require.

Is relocation in your near future?
Breaking the news to your kids can be like dropping a bomb.

One of the ways we can ensure the bomb doesn’t cause massive destruction is by consistently building up our children in meaningful ways.

We recommend parents use phrases of ENCOURAGEMENT (not praise) to empower children and help them become more resilient. Use this List of Encouraging Words to build your child’s self-esteem in meaningful ways and soften the blow. 

5. Stay Positive

Adults aren’t immune to the stressors of moving, either. Like our kids, the move may not be something we want or voluntarily chose.

Staying positive begins by maintaining control over our own anxiety. This isn’t denial or a lack of open communication–we still need to admit to our kids the ways in which we might be struggling. However, it IS controlling dramatic outbursts and giving the complicated emotions we’re feeling a positive spin.

As undeniably tough as moving can be, beneficial things result from relocation–the confidence of knowing we can adapt, the gift of having a wide network of friends in more than one place, and growing stronger emotionally. And the list goes on.

We can focus our children on these positive aspects whenever possible. While not discounting their anxiety and grief about the move, it may be helpful to say things like:

“It may take time, but moving will give you the chance to make even more friends.”

“I know you’re sad about leaving your ballet class, but it looks like the dance academy near our new house is accepting new students!”

“Where we’re moving has lots of beaches! I can see you right now playing volleyball in the sand.” Or, “We’re moving to a place with lots of snow…you can finally learn to snowboard!” 

Spreading positivity doesn’t mean our kids will suddenly alter their demeanor or accept the changes they’re facing. However, setting an example of optimism and gratitude can be contagious and help alleviate their concerns.

6. Encourage the Use of Technology to Stay in Touch with Friends

These days, most of us are fighting against our kids’ excessive use of technology and social media. We know it has its negative aspects. But when used to keep in touch with long-distance friends, social media is at its best.

We can remind our kids that they’re actually lucky (without sounding too patronizing, of course!). They live in a world where saying goodbye isn’t forever thanks to constant technological contact. 

Whether it’s FaceTime, Marco Polo, or Instagram, they can keep up to date with each other’s daily lives simply, effectively, and long-term. If their friendships are strong enough, distance won’t diminish them.

7. Don’t Underestimate Their Resiliency

Kids may seem fragile, like when asking innocent questions or overemphasizing a tiny “booboo.” They can appear unhinged when they succumb to epic tantrums and teenage mood swings.

Regardless of all the changes and the frustrations they show, kids are also strong. We need to know that a relocation will not destroy them. As long as proper support is in place, we can use a move to teach resilience and enrich their lives. 

Final Thoughts

Whether moving off to college or weathering the fifth elementary school in 5 years, the best we can offer our children is boundless support. 

Of the many silver linings, relocation reminds us to live in the moment–wherever that may find us. The process may be difficult, but it is never without value. Learning to find happiness within ourselves, despite changing surroundings, might be the most beneficial skill any child can learn.

And, who knows…

One day, we might find ourselves in our old town, driving through our old neighborhood. Curiosity takes over–is the house still there? Eventually, we see the lights of an old home that has long since found new owners. Bittersweet feelings may remind us that nothing lasts forever–but we are partially mistaken. 

Each roof we’ve lived under will always be a part of us. No house is ever truly lost.

And exciting new memories in our new homes await us.

Are you at a loss with a sad, mad, or frustrated kid? The good news is, Positive Parenting is all about encouragement. In fact, our List of Encouraging Words can help you and your child focus less on setbacks and more on their brilliant potential.

Talking to Kids About Death, Tragedy, and Loss

Mom hugging daughter
Mom hugging daughter

Mom hugging daughter

Oh, precious friend. If you’re reading this article, chances are you’re in a tough spot. 

Whether grandpa just received a terminal diagnosis and is only given weeks to live or mommy was in a life-ending car accident, the thought of breaking the news to a child is enough to make anyone panic. 

As a parenting educator, my number one goal is to equip parents with the tools they need to handle all of life’s parenting struggles. I even offer a FREE ONLINE CLASS to get parents started. As questions about grief have begun to circulate in our Positive Parenting Solutions community, I realized I needed some help answering these challenging questions. 

With research and feedback from our Positive Parenting Solutions members (ranging from grief counselors to those who’ve personally experienced loss), I’ve compiled information to help relay and explain death and tragedy–as much as it ever can be explained–to our kids.

Looking for ways to help kids cope with grief? Here are 7 reliable strategies.

Concepts of Death by Age

Before we can even begin one of the hardest conversations of our lives, we need to know what kids are capable of understanding. Naturally, most of their comprehension regarding death and loss depends on their age and experience–and we need to explain things accordingly. 

Preschool (Ages 2-5)

The finality of death is hard for anyone to accept. But for very young children, who have no understanding of mortality, they are simply unaware that death exists. 

A 3-year-old, for example, might be unable to grasp that her deceased grandfather is “gone forever” as she’s been told. She may even ask when he’ll be returning. 

Young children are also ego-centric by nature and may think they have caused or can control death or loss. This is concerning because they might feel guilty or responsible for what happened. 

If an older sibling dies, a younger 4-year-old brother might think it was the mean look he gave him or the harsh words he said under his breath that caused his death. 

Whether or not we introduce religion to young children, the concept of heaven, the soul, and an after-life can also be confusing. Most young children are very literal (particularly those diagnosed with autism), and abstract concepts–especially the idea of a person being in heaven and buried in the ground at the same time–don’t come easily to them. 

Early Childhood (Ages 5-7)

Slightly older children still grapple with the finality of death. Like younger kids, they may also think they can influence or cause death with thoughts or actions. They may even believe they can avoid their own mortality.  

Children this age might connect unrelated incidents to explain loss. If a 6-year-old watched The Nightmare Before Christmas the day her friend died, she may think–without being told otherwise–that the movie caused her friend’s death.

Middle Childhood Years (Ages 7-10)

Grief can grow in intensity for kids this age as they’re old enough to understand death as inescapable and irreversible. This means they may become fearful of their own death or the death of additional loved ones. 

At the same time, though, children in this age group are becoming more capable of looking beyond themselves. They may worry about how their family members and loved ones are coping. 

They also want to understand and make sense of death, and will likely ask more detailed, difficult questions. 

Pre-Adolescents (Ages 10-12)

Pre-adolescents have learned enough about the human body and basic biology to grasp how a body physically dies; whether it’s from old age, injury, or disease. Coincidingly, though, their fear of death further increases. 

Luckily, this age group can better understand that death and loss isn’t their fault, but may still need reminding and/or professional guidance. This is especially dependent on the situation and how the death or loss occurred. 

Teenagers

Teenagers, in their final stretch towards adulthood, generally acknowledge death in its entirety. They are also ready to explore the philosophical meaning of life. 

Also, with their growing freedom and privacy, teenagers may process their grief more independently than younger children. 

Explaining the Unexplainable 

Since every child’s ability to process death is different, how can we explain what we barely comprehend ourselves? Where can we possibly start?

No matter your child’s age, it’s important to begin by finding a safe and secure environment. While the explanation should come soon after a loved one’s passing–so that children don’t hear it from other, less personable sources (and so that they understand why you’re acting differently, or sad)–it can at least wait until they’re home from school and away from the public eye.  

Next, it’s important to hold the child or offer some form of physical affection while delivering this news. If it’s our 4-year-old daughter, we can pull her up on our lap and hug her. If it’s our reclusive teenager, we can put a hand on his shoulder. This, beyond the comfort of a quiet and familiar physical environment, will help our kids feel safe and sheltered while hearing difficult information. 

If the death or loss isn’t sudden, we can ask our child what she may already know. Maybe she was aware that auntie was sick and suffering, or maybe she wasn’t. (Learn when to tell kids about a terminal diagnosis–and why.) 

Then, we can explain what our kids need to know.

While it might be hard to suppress our own strong emotions, it’s best to be calm, stay as reassuring as possible, and use simple, matter-of-fact explanations. 

If we say “Auntie went to sleep forever,” our young daughter will be confused. Children know that after sleeping, we wake up. Plus, if we explain death in this way, our daughter may develop an unfortunate and irrational fear of sleep. 

Instead, we can be more direct and say, “Auntie’s body got very sick and it stopped working. She can’t breathe, eat, walk, or feel anything anymore.” 

Although it might seem too harsh, these facts, when presented sensitively and directly, are reasonable and acceptable explanations to children of all ages. 

Be Open to Questions, but Don’t Pry

Once we’ve told our children what they need to know, we can transition to asking what they’d like to know. Even the youngest children will probably ask questions we can’t answer. It’s always ok to say, “I don’t know.”

Children may want to hear the same information repeatedly in order to accept what has happened. Or, they may not have any questions at all. It’s also possible their questions will come later–in a few days, months, or even years. And if kids don’t ask for details, details don’t need to be given. They’ll ask questions when they’re ready to hear them. 

Part of asking our kids what they want to know can also be asking them who they want to know; that is, which of their friends or acquaintances they’d like to share the news with. We should encourage them to confide in anyone they’d like. 

Quote it's always ok to say to a child I don't know

Kids With Special Needs

When children have cognitive differences, it’s best to explain loss at their cognitive-age. 

It’s important to always tell a child–even with severe intellectual differences–about the loss of a loved one. Despite their processing differences, children with special needs still have a close emotional bond with those around them and have the right and the need to learn of a loved one’s death. 

For children with autism, the same methods of explanation at various ages apply.

Suicide and Violent Deaths

When death comes tragically through suicide or murder, it’s important to explain what happened as matter-of-factly as possible with honest–yet minimalist–description. 

The scripts below come from the Common Ground Grief Center and can provide a place to start for these difficult conversations. 

(WHEN EXPLAINING SUICIDE)

“It is difficult to understand why someone would want to end his or her life on purpose. But what we know is that just like people can get sick in their bodies, such as pain in their stomach, people can also get sick in their brain. This can cause them to feel very sad and lonely for a long time.

When people feel like this, they sometimes think about hurting themselves or even killing themselves. That is what your mom did. This is called suicide. Do you have any questions?”

(WHEN EXPLAINING HOMICIDE)   

“There are people in this world who might make a decision to hurt someone else on purpose. Someone killed your dad and he is no longer alive. It can be difficult to understand why someone would want to cause others harm like this. This is called homicide. Do you have any questions?” 

Addressing Spirituality and Religion

Times of crisis are always an appropriate time to acknowledge and explore faith and philosophy with children. 

As mentioned before, however, when abstract, metaphysical concepts are used to explain death, children may struggle to understand.

For young children, using solely religious explanations may be ineffective because they need much more concrete, specific explanations about the physical realities of death. – Elyse C. Salek, MEd, and Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, MS Ed, FAAP — HealthyChildren.org

If we tell our son that his dad is “now in a better place,he may wonder why life on Earth is so terrible. If we mention that “God wanted Grandma to join him in heaven,” young kids will ponder why God thinks it’s more important that Grandma is with Him and not with family. And if we mention that Grandma will always be watching over them, it might make them feel uncomfortable when they’ve done something bad or embarrassing.

While these explanations may give adults comfort, they need to be used carefully with children. Otherwise, they can further concern and confuse them. 

As children grow older and ask deeper, more detailed questions, we can gradually introduce the more complex aspects of our belief systems.

Final Thoughts

I know that right now, it may be hard for anything to sound helpful or to make sense. I know you and your child are hurting.

Taking the first step towards anything is often the hardest. You just need to focus on putting one foot forward–step-by-step, minute-by-minute–and helping your child do the same.

Don’t ever hesitate to seek additional outside resources and advice from grief counselors and specialists. And, please, remember that there are many helpful strategies you can use to relay the heartbreaking news to your children and move forward through grief, tragedy, and loss. 

Our goal at Positive Parenting Solutions is to support parents on their parenting journey through all of its ups and downs. We have an incredible community of parents who’ve learned how to parent well through all of life’s struggles.

If you’d like to learn more about the positive parenting strategies we teach, I’d love for you to join me for a free class.

In the meantime, we are sending you all the virtual hugs and love we can muster during this incredibly difficult season.

I Was a Hard-to-Be-Around Adult … Until I Knew Better

Mom playing with kids at the table
Mom playing with kids at the table

Mom playing with kids at the table

Guest post from New York Times bestselling author, Rachel Macy Stafford

A few months ago, I came across a photo taken during a beach vacation with my extended family when my first-born daughter Natalie was a baby. Some beach vacation memories kind-of run together, but not this one. I remember every shameful moment of that trip.

Seeing my husband’s family members standing next to me, and recalling how loving they were to me when I was so hard to be around, brought a lump to my throat.

While no one ever came right out and mentioned how difficult I was to be around during that trip… that season… that period of my life… I knew I was. I was controlling and critical; I overreacted to small things, and nothing was ever good enough.

Hard-To-Be-Around was an Understatement.

I remember how my husband, Scott, kindly booked me a facial during that week in an effort to help me relax. About mid-way through the treatment, the esthetician left me alone for quite some time. Instead of viewing her extending absence as a chance to simply rest and breathe, I impatiently got up, got dressed, and left in a huff.

While recalling my behavior — that I now know was masking a deep, unspoken pain — my face burned with embarrassment.

But, as shame and regret were about to sabotage the present moment, I gently told myself, “No. You’re not going there. Today matters more than yesterday; who you are becoming matters more than who you once were.”

For added measure, I recited Maya Angelou’s wise saying, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

I reminded myself that is exactly what I’ve done over the past decade of my life. By chronicling my most painful truths and using them as catalysts for healing and growth, I’ve become the person I didn’t think I’d ever become:

Someone who is easy to be around.

And I don’t mean “easy” as in pushover, but “easy” as in accepting, open, optimistic, forgiving, and peaceful.  And as a result, my relationships with the people I love have also been healed and strengthened.

Like any positive transformation, this growth didn’t happen overnight, and honestly, I’m not sure I would have fully realized its impact on my relationship with my daughter had it not been for a late-night disaster that occurred a few months back.

I was due to deliver a keynote for an important organization that empowers young people. I’d worked on the presentation for weeks, making sure to save the document throughout the writing process. But when I went to print out the script the night before, it was nowhere to be found.

After a futile two-hour search, I walked upstairs and knocked softly on Natalie’s bedroom door.

“Is everything ok?” she said, sitting up quickly in her bed.

“I lost my speech that I am giving in the morning. I just know I saved it, but I can’t find it,” I said trying to hold back tears. “Can you help me?”

Natalie promptly took my computer into her hands and started clicking buttons, opening folders, and checking recent documents. For over ten minutes, she searched by title and various key words.

While she searched, Natalie said not a word, which gave me time to think. I remember my thoughts in that moment quite vividly:

She is not shaming me.

She is not blaming me. 

She is not doubting or dismissing me. 

She is seeing me. 

She is standing with me. 

My problem is her problem. 

I am not alone.

I can breathe. 

Rachel Macy Stafford quote

Unable to find the document after trying everything she knew how to do, Natalie reluctantly handed the computer back to me, saying how sorry she was.

“Thank you so much for trying,” I said, feeling unexpectedly hopeful.

As I walked downstairs, I realized that watching Natalie open files triggered a memory from a few days prior. I’d been working away from home and when I tried to save my presentation, I got a message saying it could not be saved unless I was connected to the internet.

I sat down at the kitchen table feeling confident that my presentation was saved in a remote location. As I searched, a text from Natalie popped up. She wrote:

“Text me if you have any luck finding it. I’m really sorry this happened. I know how hard you work to always be prepared for these things, and you do so much for us all. I’m really sorry, and I hate that this happened. If there is anything else I can do, let me know.” 

I couldn’t explain why, but her compassionate response to my plight gave me added hope and determination; I felt like no matter what resulted, I could deliver that speech in a few hours. Had I not had Natalie to turn to and had she not received me so kindly in my moment of crisis, I’m certain I would not have felt that way.

Reflecting back on that moment now, there is also this:

Had I stayed the person who was hard to be around–

A person who couldn’t be pleased,

A person who held tightly to her plan,

A person who met mistakes with exasperated sighs,

I’m not sure my daughter would have welcomed me into her room late that night… and I’m quite certain she wouldn’t be welcoming me into her own catastrophes, heartaches, and challenges as she grows.

Interestingly, this experience relates to one of the most unforgettable conversations I heard when I spoke with a group of middle schoolers last year. It was the kind of insight that fueled me to keep writing my book, LIVE LOVE NOW, even though it was the hardest endeavor I’ve ever pursued.

A few kids had gathered around a desk after my presentation, and a student mentioned that certain adults are “hard to be around.” The other kids nodded in agreement and began to talk.  I recognized myself in their comments and felt grateful to be in a position to hear – and really listen to – what they had to say without feeling defensive.

Based on their commentary, I was able to come to gather some conclusions. Here is a short list of adult behaviors that increase the chance of being invited into the sacred spaces of young people’s lives.

Easy-To-Be-Around Adults…

  • Don’t always expect conversation. They accept that quiet is needed – and even welcome or create periods of connective silence with the young people they love.
  • Don’t take bad attitudes and grumpy dispositions personally. They realize young people are coping with a lot, both internally and externally, and understand that the poor attitude being displayed is most likely not about them.
  • Don’t interrogate. Instead of peppering young people with questions, Easy-To-Be-Around Adults make themselves available and approachable. When the young people DO talk, the adult pushes aside what they are doing to listen fully and express genuine interest in what is being said.
  • Don’t judge decisions. Maybe it’s not the choice the adult would have made, but that does not mean it’s wrong or won’t result in a learning experience. Easy-To-Be-Around Adults express curiosity instead of judgment by saying something like: “I’d like to hear more about why you took that route.”
  • Don’t have all the answers. It’s hard to be around someone who knows it all, especially when it comes to one’s own personal life. Throughout a teen’s path to independence, they need a sounding board, not a know-it-all.
  • Don’t expect perfection. Easy-To-Be-Around Adults communicate that mistakes are part of life, dismissing the notion that perfection is needed in life’s journey, which is very damaging to personal growth, happiness, and wellbeing. Easy-To-Be-Around also share their own mistakes, becoming a trusted source of support when things go wrong.
  • Don’t comment on appearance. Easy-To-Be-Around Adults trust that their kids are showing up in whatever way they feel most comfortable. They accept young people “as is,” knowing that even the most well-intentioned “suggestions” regarding appearance feel like rejections of who they are.

As for the whole presentation debacle, I was able to find it very early that morning in a remote location called OneDrive I didn’t even know existed. Although it was around one o’clock in the morning, I suddenly felt awake and excited. For the first time ever, I would have the opportunity to share pieces of my new book with an audience that would eagerly embrace and apply my insights.

I expected the audience to be receptive to my honest sharing, but nothing could have prepared me for the response of one particular teen.

I was talking to a group of people after the event when she came up and put her hand on my arm.

“Can I just hug you?” the young woman said.

When we embraced, I noticed she let out an audible sigh of relief, whispering, “Thank you.”

As she held on and I held on, several thoughts of gratitude came to mind –

Thank goodness for second chances… third chances… and forty-second chances.

Thank goodness, the truth is not the end; it is the beginning.

Thank goodness, struggles shared are struggles halved.

I could not find what this young person had lost any more than Natalie could find my misplaced presentation–but simply SEEING this young woman and her pain provided the fuel she needed to move forward with hope.

“Feeling seen and heard enables human beings to reach their highest potential.”  

I’d said those exact words in the talk.

But this young person knew by the cracks in my voice that it wasn’t just talk–

I’ve lived it… I’ve practiced it.

And now, the people around me can breathe easier and so can I.

Thank goodness it’s not too late to become who you never thought you’d be.

Thank goodness we have the chance to love better, once we know better.

Final Thoughts From Amy

It is always such a precious gift to share space on this blog with my dear friend, Rachel Macy Stafford. She is a breath of fresh air to parents who feel like they are drowning, and her newest book LIVE LOVE NOW should be on everyone’s must-read list this year!

 

About the Author

Rachel Macy Stafford is a New York Times bestselling author and founder of www.handsfreemama.com. In Live Love Now, Rachel Macy Stafford weaves tools of her trade as a special education teacher with the daily rhythms of life and brings them to your living room. Today’s youth may very well be facing issues no previous generation has ever faced, but Rachel shows us how our homes can be safe havens, even when the world feels disconnected, divided, and uncertain. If we are willing to live a life anchored by truth, presence and connection, there is great hope.