How to Talk to Your Children About Divorce: 5 Things to Consider
Updated: Feb 28
Divorce can be a difficult and emotionally draining process for both parents and children alike. Parents should be mindful and considerate when talking to children about divorce. By doing so, you can help them adjust to their new reality and make the transition to co-parenting as smooth as possible. This discussion can be very challenging. Parents are faced with the delicate balance of how to approach the subject of divorce with their kids and make sure they understand what is happening in an age appropriate way
If you are facing a divorce, it is important to understand that this is your first opportunity to minimize the impact of divorce on the children but ultimately, you also face the risk of unintentionally involving the children in the conflict of your divorce. With the right approach, you can ensure that your children are informed and supported throughout the divorce process . In this blog post, we will discuss five key topics to consider before having this discussion with the children.
1) The Best Time to Talk
When you are ready to have this difficult conversation with your children, be prepared to answer their questions and address any negative feelings in a safe, calm environment away from distractions. Make sure to discuss this conversation with your co-parent before presenting it to the children. This will help you share the news as a united front.
Create an age-appropriate answer for when the children ask the inevitable question "why?". Both parents need to agree on an answer that;
Uses general terms
Avoids burdening the children with adult matters
Does not ask the children to keep secrets
Does not assign blame to either parent
Does not imply that the divorce is caused by the children in any way.
A general answer to "why" sounds like this:
"We have tried very hard, but we just can’t fix our problems. We both love you very much and we will still be your parents, but we decided we won’t be living together anymore.”
“I understand how you must be feeling, this divorce is between your parents. This is an adult decision and has nothing to do with children. We are still a family, it will just look different than before, with two homes instead of one.
Be prepared to answer other questions such as:
What does "divorced" mean?
Do you still love each other?
Can I still see my mommy/daddy? When? How often?
Do I get to keep my pet? Toys? clothes?
Where will I live? Where do I sleep?
Are we still a family?
Is this because I was bad?
Once you have announced the news, keep the conversation open by answering their questions in a calm, supportive way.
2) Keep It Age Appropriate
Younger children are generally more concerned with the "what" not the "why" but they still want answers. It's important to reassure them that divorce is an adult decision that has nothing to do with the children.
Older children and teenagers may be more concerned with how this is going to impact their lifestyle and school. They may want to know why this had to happen.
For younger children it is important to keep the conversation about divorce age appropriate for their level of understanding. When discussing the divorce with the children it is important to phrase things like "this is no one's fault" so that the children know that they are not the cause of the divorce. Do not burden the children with the upsetting details of the divorce, as this can lead to feelings of guilt and grief. Depending on the age of your children, they may be concerned with issues such as custody, access to both parents, and how to tell their friends that their parents are divorced. If possible, talk to other divorced parents or look for divorce support groups in your community that can provide advice and information to help your children through this difficult time. Ultimately, make sure your children know that even though their family structure is changing, both parents love them and that they will always have two homes that they belong to.
3) Don't Place Blame
When it comes to discussing divorce with your children, it's important not to place blame on either parent. It can be difficult not to voice frustration and negative feelings that have built up leading up to the separation but try to keep the conversation focused on the facts. Talk about the decision to separate and how it affects the family dynamic. Let your children know that both parents will always love them and that having two homes is a common part of many families lives. This can help make the transition smoother and provide a sense of stability.
If you feel that the children are having a hard time, make sure the children have support during this process. Seek out professional help or join a divorce support group to ensure you are equipped with the necessary tools to discuss this difficult subject. There are many online resources, books and professionals available to help you talk to your children about divorce in a constructive and healthy way.
4) Explain What Will Change and What Won't
When discussing divorce with your children, explain that some things will change and some won’t. This can be difficult, but it helps kids to understand what is happening and adjust to the new situation. To start, emphasize that your love for your child will never change, no matter what happens. Assure them that both parents still care deeply about them and that it is not their fault.
Help them understand that living arrangements will change; they may soon have two homes and live with both parents. Talk to them about any changes they will experience in their daily routine or activities, such as a different school or activities. Print out a calendar to show the children the parenting schedule so they know where they will be spending the night and who will pick them up from school. Explain that you both still expect the same values, manners, and behaviors from them and the divorce should not interfere with any of these expectations.
Let your children know that if they need help or support, they can always talk to you, a school counselor or their therapist (if applicable). Stress that talking to a professional can help them work through their emotions and provide them with the tools they need to handle the transition into a two-home family.
No matter what the circumstances, remind your children that you both love them deeply and that you are both there for them. A successful divorce hinges on honest communication and mutual respect. Reassure your children that this experience does not define who they are and that with time and patience, life will go on.
5) Keep the Lines of Communication Open
Both parents should strive to maintain open lines of communication with their children. Divorce can be an emotionally overwhelming time for children, and having a support system in place can make all the difference. Talking about the divorce is a key part of this process. Parents should make sure to listen to their children's thoughts and feelings, provide answers to questions, and continue to talk about the changes in their family.
When it comes to communicating with your children during and after a divorce, it's important to remain consistent and available. Try to have regular discussions with your child about how they're feeling, answer questions as honestly as you can, and always let them know that you are there for them. It is also beneficial to keep your conversations focused on two homes rather than two families. While you may no longer be together, both parents will continue to be an important part of the child's life and should both be recognized as such.
Reaching out to a divorce support group or therapist can also be extremely helpful when navigating the conversations with your children. There are many professionals who specialize in helping families transition through a divorce and can provide useful advice on how to best keep the lines of communication open. Having a neutral third-party available to provide guidance can be invaluable when talking to your kids about the divorce.
In conclusion, please keep in mind that children grieve divorce too. Children often communicate through behavior, and it may be hard to differentiate between normal developmental behavior and behavior that is caused by divorce. As a parent, it's not our job to protect the child from adversity. It is our job to equip them with the tools they need to deal with it. Above all else, children need to feel safe and free to express their feelings. Parents can do this by validating those feelings and by providing structure and support at both homes. Lastly, consider this. when your children look back at this moment in their lives, what do you want them to remember?