Children and Divorce: How to Tell Children About Your Divorce

Are you prepared to tell your children about your upcoming divorce? Do you know how to tell your kids that you are getting a divorce? Do you wonder when you should tell your children about the divorce, what details to include or leave out when explaining why there is going to be a separation or divorce?

Getting a divorce may be one of the most painful and stressful periods in your life, with feelings of hurt, pain, loss and anger, but telling the children that you are going to divorce and why will likely be the hardest part of the entire divorce process. When done correctly, talking to your kids about the pending divorce can help your children cope with the sadness, confusion, and powerlessness a child often feels during this highly emotional time in their lives.

Children often don’t understand the meaning of divorce, and more often than not, kids blame themselves when their parents get a divorce. Children are afraid that they will lose one of their parents or that their parents will simply abandon them and they will have to somehow fend for themselves. Therefore, it is vital that both you and your soon-to-be-ex convey in your words and actions that you will always be there for your children.

How to Tell Your Children About the Divorce

Confer with your spouse beforehand. Divorce has a profound effect on children. Come to an agreement on what you’re going to say to the children about the divorce before having a family meeting. Your primary goal is to protect your children while being as open and honest as you can, so remember to keep their ages in mind when explaining the reasons for the divorce. Get your story straight so that you don’t contradict one another or argue while you are breaking the news of the divorce to your kids. If you don’t have this conversation beforehand, you may end up having it in front of your kids, which will only make matters worse for your children.

Note: This conversation may not be possible if you’ve found yourself in an unwanted divorce, or where the marriage included physical, mental or emotional abuse. If emotions are running high, or you think there’s going to be a lot of conflict or fighting if you tell the children together, it would be in your child’s best interests to break the news of the divorce to the children alone. In such cases, you may want to consult with a mediator or family counselor prior to telling your children about the divorce, in order to lessen the impact on your kids.

When To Tell. Choose a time when the conversation will not be rushed and both parents will be around to answer any and all questions the children may have. It would be best to tell children about the divorce on a day they do not have to go to school, so they can process and deal with their feelings at home with one or both parents around. Your kids will want to know where they’re going to live and with whom, and how their lives are going to change. You can help your children to be prepared for these changes by being honest about what you know, and what you don’t know.

Present a united front. Divorce can bring out the worst in people. If at all possible, both parents need to be present when telling the children about the divorce so they can reinforce firsthand that although they will no longer be married, they will always be parents and love their children. For the sake of your children, put aside the hurt and anger you may be feeling, so that you can make important decisions together about the details you’ll need to tell your children. Don’t go into any gory details, but provide an age-appropriate explanation about the reasons for the divorce, which will go a long way in helping your kids deal with the news.

Remind them of your unconditional love. Begin the conversation by telling your children how much you love them and that nothing will ever change that. Reassure your children that the divorce is not their fault, and that your divorce has absolutely nothing to do with them. Give kids enough information to prepare them for any upcoming changes in their lives, explaining that when parents divorce they stop being married, but do not ever stop being parents.

Don’t stifle your children. Give your children plenty of room to express their feelings about the separation or divorce, whether it’s denial, sadness or anger, as well as the opportunity to ask questions about the divorce. It will take time for your children to adjust to this news. Divorce is a huge change in everyone’s lives, and while you may be confident in the future you envision for yourself and your kids, it will take some time for them to cope with the divorce. In the meantime, be patient with their needs and make the effort to be a steady presence in their lives.

Don’t bad-mouth your ex. This is crucial, although oftentimes challenging. Blaming or bad-mouthing your spouse damages and hurts children. Remember that your child’s relationship with their other parent is separate from yours, and you must respect their relationship by not saying or doing anything to create parental alienation between them. Also, do not make messengers out of your children. If you are unable to discuss things with your spouse about issues or problems with the divorce rationally, talk to someone who can act as a mediator between you, rather than putting your child in the position of feeling as though they must choose sides.

Do not treat children as pawns in the divorce. Do not use your children as a means to get back at your former spouse. Any thoughts of withholding child support, refusing or not showing up for scheduled visitation, or verbally dragging the other parent through the mud will hurt your children. Avoid making your children your confidantes, but keep your grownup worries and concerns to yourself or share them only with other adults.

Be absolutely sure you want a divorce. Before telling your children that there is going to be a divorce, be 100% percent sure that a divorce is really what you need and want. Don’t be wishy-washy in whether or not there will be a divorce, as the damage to your child’s mental and emotional health is at stake. Keep in mind that if it were up to your children to decide, they would most likely want you to stay together and work things out. Children often fantasize about their parents getting back together and everyone living happily ever after, so children need to know that there will be no reconciliation.

Help yourself to help your children. For the well-being of your children, you must rise to the occasion and work to reduce your child’s stress and anxiety of the pending divorce, not add to it. I highly recommend anyone getting a divorce to read Surviving Divorce by Pamela Weintraub and Terry Hillman, which provides information to help divorcing couples navigate the legal, emotional, and financial stresses that go hand-in-hand with the breakup of a marriage.

Provide support. Having the added support of family, friends or other professionals will help everyone in the family cope with the transition. After you’ve told your children about the divorce, be sure to tell their teachers, school counselor, grandparents and other significant adults in their life so they can be on the lookout for behavior and mood changes in order to provide needed support.

Children can benefit from keeping a Diary or Journal where they can unload their feelings and raw emotions, as well as reading books that help children cope with divorce. For example, I recommend Dinosaurs Divorce by Marc Brown and Laurie Krasny-Brown as a great resource for children between the ages of 4 and 8 years old; as well as Helping Your Kids Cope with Divorce the Sandcastles Way by M. Gary Neuman for children of divorce between the ages of 6 and 17.

Just because your marriage to your spouse is ending in divorce, it doesn’t mean your children must be made to suffer as though the divorce were there own. Telling children about divorce must be done, but done in such a way that greatly reduces their pain and stress over the breakup of their family.

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12 Responses to “Children and Divorce: How to Tell Children About Your Divorce”

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  1. Another great post, Lin. However, I believe that there is no easy way to tell your child that his parents do not love each other anymore.

    I am a product of a broken family, and I only met my mother when I was 19. I therefore believe that couples should do everything to keep their marriage intact and consider divorce as the last resort.

    Thanks.

  2. Lin says:

    G.A., I also believe that parents should do everything possible to keep the marriage healthy and strong, with divorce being the last resort. That’s why I write articles about Keeping the Fire Alive in Your Marriage and other like articles.

    However, after trying a variety of methods to fix problems in a marriage, one or both may feel that getting a divorce is necessary. Perhaps it’s due to an abusive marriage, infidelity or other problems. Whatever the reason for the divorce, parents need to understand how to talk to their children about the divorce and do so in a way that considers the impact of the news on the kids.

    Divorcing parents often lash out at each other, even in front of the kids, and pain this inflicts on the children is immense. While the parents may not beable to work things out and decide to get a divorce, the children should not have to bear the pain and hurt of a nasty split.

  3. vered says:

    Do you know that I used to be a divorce attorney? This is great advice. “Do not treat children as pawns in the divorce” is absolutely essential.

  4. Lin says:

    Hi Vered, I didn’t know that but it’s cool! Isn’t it awful how angry spouses hurt their kids during divorce? It’s so sad, and the children deserve so much better treatment than that.

  5. Yu Ming Lui says:

    Hi, it’s my first time commenting here.

    There is never an easy way to tell your kids about a divorce and the emotional storm is difficult to navigate.

    All good points mentioned on this topic.

  6. The whole process is a torture for the kids is parents are not careful. It is amazing how sometimes the financial and legal aspects receive more importance and they almost forget about the emotional health of the kids. Divorce is something they will not understand, no matter how old they are. This is the time when children need full support from both parents, no matter how the relationship is between them.

  7. Lin says:

    Divorce is emotional devastating for children, and parents really need to be careful about how they handle the divorce process in order to protect their children from long-lasting emotional damage. The financial and legal aspects of divorce may be a concern for parents, but in my opinion, properly caring for their child’s emotional and mental well-being must be paramount in their minds.

  8. Laura says:

    As you noted, in some relationships things have broken down so much that there is no opportunity to do the talk together or even discuss when to do the talk. But usually, in that situation the kids are pretty much prepared, they see what’s going on. I also learned, the hard way, that the no-bad mouthing the other parent policy needs tweaking when you are constantly being bad-mouthed. I have found that after months of ignoring it, making objective comments that let’s my daughters (12 and 17) know a bit more of the reality from my side might be better than letting them only hear his distortions and insults.

    I have no idea if I have done the right things for my daughters, but everything I have done has come from deep love, care and concern.

    Laura

  9. Lin says:

    Hello Laura, I understand all too well what you’re talking about in regards to the difficulties when one parent is bad mouthing the other.

    There are times when a parent must respond to the verbal attacks, to try and help the kids deal with their own feelings and emotions from what they’re hearing.

    I feel it’s important that at least one of the parents be responsible and mature enough to not wage a war of words in such a way that hurts the children more than they are already hurting.

    Explaining some things regarding the divorce, in age appropriate language and consideration for their feelings, must be the priority as opposed to divorcing parents battling things out with children in the middle. (I edited your comment to remove your extra link to your blog, that’s not allowed.)

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