How to tell the kids you're getting separated or divorced

If you and your spouse have come to the conclusion that your marriage is no longer sustainable, you've probably gone through a lot of soul-searching. If you have kids, you're probably dreading telling them -- but it has to be done. Here are a few tips to help you make it easier:

Pick a good time and be ready for questions. The day your kids hear about your divorce or separation will probably be a day they remember forever. You might not be able to make it a good memory, but you can make it better with planning. Don't pick a holiday or a time when the pressure is already high. Make your plans for the next phase of your life before you tell the kids so you'll have specific, concrete answers about what they can expect. Plan to be available for at least a couple of days to answer follow-up questions -- or just to give comfort and reassurance.

Break the news to your kids as a couple. Pull together as a couple to explain you're not a couple? Parenting expert Alyson Schafer explains that doing so can help prevent your kids from suffering divided loyalties. It's important for them to see that you and your spouse have come to this decision together. It also signals that you plan to continue parenting as a team.

Explain the situation calmly without airing marital grievances. First, make sure your kids understand that your breakup is not their fault. Stress that you both love them and that you can all get through the changes as a family. Encourage open communication; this is a huge, stressful change in their lives and they will probably have questions on a long-term basis.

Be honest without giving too much information. Even if you sincerely consider your spouse's behavior blameworthy, your kids will not benefit from becoming involved in the dispute. The specifics of how your relationship broke down are almost certainly for your kids -- just tell them the marriage isn't working and, after discussing it, you decided as a couple to separate.

How your kids will react to the news will depend on the situation and how they usually handle stress. Keep an eye out for troubling behaviors that may indicate they need help and get it right away. Otherwise, lots of extra hugs and kisses are the best medicine for now.