How to Tell Kids About Divorce


What to tell your child about divorce. How to tell kids about divorce. How do I explain divorce to my child? When should you tell your child about divorce? How to tell kids about separation.

How Do I Explain Divorce to My Child?

Probably the only thing more painful than the recognition that your marriage is over is the thought of having to tell the children that their parents are separating.  While reconciliation may be possible, children need to be informed that one of their parents will be moving out of the marital home and be psychologically prepared for the likelihood of a divorce.

How Do I Explain Divorce to My Child?

It’s natural for parents to feel uncertain and anxious about talking to their children about divorce, so it’s best to prepare in advance what you will tell them.  The way in which you and your spouse break the news to the children now will set the tone for how well the kids will deal with the divorce down the road, so knowing what can be said and done to make things easier on the children is essential.

When should you tell your child about divorce?

If it’s at all possible, you should consult with your spouse before speaking to the children in order to agree upon what exactly you will tell them.  Your children need to understand why their parents are divorcing and what will happen to them.  Failure to give your children this information may lead to their confusion, anxiety, and loss of trust.  Do not underestimate the importance of this discussion.

While things may be tense between you and your spouse at this time, if you do not have this conversation before talking to the kids, you may wind up having it in front of them, so it would be a good idea to put your feelings aside in order to make joint decisions regarding the details you’ll need to tell your children.  If you and your spouse are not on speaking terms, you may want to consider consulting a counselor or mediator to help the two of you work out the details.

Ideally, you and your spouse should break the news to the children together. Telling the children about the divorce together sends an important message to the kids that both of their parents are on the same page and are going to work together to take care of the family.  Make an attempt to incorporate the word “we” into your discussion with the children to reinforce the notion of parental agreement.

You should have a discussion with all of the children at the same time so that each child hears the same story from mom and dad, and not a secondhand story from a sibling.  The explanation for the divorce should be appropriate to the age and intellectual and emotional development of your children.  When children are young, they can become confused with too many details.

While it’s not necessary, or even appropriate, to share with the kids the specific details underlying the reasons for the divorce, older children usually have a more realistic understanding of their parent’s marriage and will often want a more detailed explanation than the younger children, so be prepared.  If your children are different ages, share only the basic information initially, and then you can follow up with the older children later if you feel it’s appropriate.

It’s vitally important that you and your spouse remain calm during this conversation.  Always try to resist the temptation to place blame or discuss who’s at fault in the situation.  Parents should take a tone of respect for one another.

Since it’s not unusual for children to blame themselves for their parent’s divorce, make a specific point of repeatedly reinforcing to the children that your decision to divorce has nothing to do with them, is not their fault, and they are still deeply loved by both parents.  Reassure the kids that although you and their other parent can no longer remain married, you both will continue to take care of and support them.

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Keep it simple and generic.  Reassure the child both parents still love them.  Blaming the other parent should never be an option.  If you do, the child will feel he or she must choose to emotionally support the parent who is more of a victim.  Never share your deeply personal story.  In the opinion of many, even if a child seems emotionally mature, children can’t process complex adult relationships. Almost anything a parent says can be interpreted unreasonably and inaccurately.

How to Tell Kids about Separation

Divorce can be a disruptive and scary experience for kids.  You can reassure your children and make them feel safe and secure by providing them with the specific details, if known, about changes that will be occurring in their lives.  If you know, immediately inform them where they will live and with whom.

You and your spouse also need to agree to a parenting plan and visitation schedule as soon as possible and make the children aware of it. Ask your children for their feedback on the parenting and visitation schedule, but only if they are mature enough.   Parents must still be responsible for decisions.  Avoid making your children feel that they must decide.

If you or your spouse has plans to move out, notifying the children about it in advance can make it easier for them to cope. The more information that you can give your kids about where the departing parent will be living, as well as when they will be able to visit that parent, the better they will feel about the situation.  Post the visitation schedule in a prominent place in your home so that the children can see when they are going to visit the other parent.  Taking the children to visit their parent’s new residence as soon as possible can also help to relieve separation anxiety.

Being honest and upfront with your children about what you know and don’t know in the beginning of the separation process can help psychologically prepare your children for the upcoming changes they will have to face.  Assure your children that the both of you will do your best to disrupt their lives as little as possible, but do not to make any long-range promises to your kids since the future can be very uncertain.  Rather, stick with the assurances you can confidently make right now, and be extra generous with your hugs and words of love and affection.

What to Tell Your Child about Divorce

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What to Tell Your Child about Divorce

Be sensitive to how your children react to the news of the divorce.  The divorce may be an unexpected shock for some children, but no surprise to others.  The initial emotional reaction children have in response to a parental divorce can range from weepy to angry.  But do not be surprised if your child seems to have no reaction at all, which does not necessarily indicate lack of feelings, but rather shock or the lack of knowledge on how to express intense emotions appropriately.  It may take some time for the reality of the situation to sink in before your children will be able to articulate their feelings.

You should assume that the children will be upset, so be prepared to reassure them and answer questions or concerns with age-appropriate responses.  More likely than not, your children will have many questions to ask you and your spouse.  You need to make the children aware that the situation will continue to unfold and the topic might be revisited many times as new questions and concerns arise.  Avoid conversations about what might happen. Only share final decisions, not speculation.

Make a point of reassuring your children that their wants, needs, and feelings are important to you, so they do not need to be afraid of expressing themselves.  Foster open communication among all members of the family, and tell the children that they are entitled to their emotions about their new family situation.

Explain to your children that their emotions are neither right nor wrong and do not need to be judged, but they are expected to control their behavior and express their emotions in constructive, rather than destructive ways.  Children should also be encouraged to problem solve in their relationships in order to find solutions rather than feel helpless and complain.

Avoid Parentification

Be sure to avoid relying on your children for emotional support.  Even older children.  This can result in parentification. Parentification is the process of role reversal whereby a child is obliged to act as parent to their own parent or sibling. In extreme cases, the child is used to fill the void in the alienating parent’s emotional life.  If you are concerned this may be happening, tell your family lawyer and seek assistance from an experienced counselor or therapist familiar with the legal system.

When Unexpected Problems Arise

Parents and children need to realize that as time goes on there will likely be bumps in the road caused by parenting and visitation schedule changes. Do your best to give the children honest but simple explanations for the disruptions without placing blame.  Try to explain to your children that both you and their other parent are doing your best to iron out conflicts.  While you should do everything possible to maintain consistency in your children’s lives, most children can adjust to minor differences in routine.

At some point either yourself or your ex-spouse may get involved in a new romantic relationship or even get remarried.  While it’s normal for divorced parents to move on to new partners, it can create some turmoil for the children who now have to get accustomed to a new relationship. Introduce new partners into your children’s lives slowly, but if someone is planning on remarrying, the children need to be told well in advance so they can get adjusted to the new situation gradually.

In some instances, there may be family members who are not adjusting well to changes after the divorce.  Be sensitive to signs of more serious psychological problems such as emotional outbursts, withdrawal, prolonged periods of sadness, or acting out behaviors.  Express your concern and show your support for the family member in crisis, but be careful not to make the person feel ashamed.  Individual or family counseling can be helpful if these issues don’t go away as part of the natural adjustment process.

Talking to your children about divorce and the resulting emotions and problems in the aftermath is not going to be the easiest thing that you have ever done. Parents need to remember that while children need to be informed about the divorce, being too honest can make children believe they have input, making them feel caught in the middle.  Share decisions made but keep the kids out of the decision-making process even if you feel the children are mature enough.  Even older children can feel caught in the middle having to choose between parents.  Parents can and should take that emotional burden from them.

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