How To Talk To Your Kids About Divorce – A Complete Guide

Reviewed by Casey M. Reiter, Esq, Appellate & Litigation Support Attorney
By Harini Natarajan, Certified Emotional Intelligence Practitioner

To children, the separation of their parents could be world-changing. If you are looking for suggestions on how to talk to your kids about divorce, keep reading.

Discussing divorce with your kids can be tough. Most therapists would agree that divorce impacts children in profound ways. Often, the news is a devastating blow and may cause the children to act out and become rebellious. But there are ways you can sit down and have an open conversation with your child. Keep reading to know more.

How To Tell Your Kids That Their Parents Are Getting Divorced?

1. Make It A Point To Be Together

You and your partner may not agree on a lot of matters. However, ensure that both of you are together when you decide to break the news of your divorce to your children. It will avoid any confusion and save them from listening to different versions of the story. Talking to your partner beforehand will give you a direction about the right choice of words.

Having the discussion together will maintain the trust that your children have in you. It will show that even though you are separating, you both are still on the same page when it comes to parenting them. It is also beneficial for their mental health to see their parents presenting a unified front.

2. Plan What You Are Going To Say

Before talking to your kids about divorce, sit with your partner and discuss what you will say. Both of you must be on the same page about this. Expect a lot of questions; you both can take turns answering them.

Your children are going to be curious to know how this decision will impact their lives. Pre-empt their questions, and if you cannot, agree on a common tone that you will use in this discussion.

3. Do Not Blame Each Other

The process of divorce with kids involved can take a toll on you. You may be in emotional hell and want to vent it out. However, the blame game may take a toll on your children’s mental well-being and scar them for a long time.

Children should not be forced to choose between their parents, and blaming one-another in front of the children – no matter how well-deserved the blame may be – could lead to that devastating result.

If your children are too young to understand, keep it simple and avoid telling them about the sensitive details of your marriage. For instance, do not tell them if there was an extra-marital affair or abuse. There may be a time to share such information, but it is not now. Children should be kept out of the divorce process and litigation; it is not in their best interest to be involved.

You may explain the reason for the divorce if your children are a bit older.

4. Tell Them That Both Of You Will Be Available

When you tell your children about your divorce, you will have to talk to them about the future. The news that one of their parents is going to move out can cause distress to their innocent minds.

You can try to relieve their stress by informing them that both of you will still be an inseparable part of their lives. Tell them that although one parent will be moving out, the equation with the children will remain the same.

5. Talk To Your Children As A Family

If your children are at a mature age, you can break the news as a family. After that, you can follow up with each child individually. However, if you feel that one child will get upset or will not be able to hold back their emotions, tell them separately.

If there is a significant age gap, you may want to tell them separately. It is better to use language that they will understand to make the conversation easier for them.

6. Allow Them To React

Before telling your kids about your divorce, prepare yourself for all possible reactions. Each child may react differently. While one may cry for days, another child may get angry or ignore it altogether. One may even get upset and ask you to leave the room. Be prepared for all kinds of reactions and allow them time to accept your decision.

However, do let them know that you are available to talk and answer their questions at all times. Avoid hounding them with questions. Instead, plan a second conversation a few days later to check in on them and find out how they are coping with the news.

As important as it is to figure out how to tell your children that you are getting divorced, it is equally essential to time it right. Let us find out more about how you can do this.

When Is The Right Time to Inform Your Child About Your Divorce?

Well, there is never going to be a good time to inform your children that their parents are separating. However, this is an inevitable conversation. Before talking to kids about divorce, be very sure of your decision and that there is no possibility of reconciliation.

Children do not like uncertainty. Telling them before you are sure about your decision may make them unsure about their future. Moreover, you will not be able to answer their questions unless you are clear about your intentions.

Select a time when they are not already upset with something. Secondly, make sure that it is not after a fight you both have in front of your children.

To time it right, try to tell them over the weekend instead of a weekday. That way, you will be around to handle any questions on their days off and minimize interruption or stress on their school days. Furthermore, choose a quiet place to tell them. Preferably, break the news at home and not in a public place.

When talking to kids about divorce, it is best to plan what you will tell them. Check out the next section to learn how best to do it.

What Should You Tell Your Kids About Divorce?

1. Tell Them What Divorce Means

Teenagers will have a fair understanding of what divorce means. However, if your kids are younger, they will need your help in understanding what it means and how it will impact their lives.

Be gentle and use simple language that they will understand. If they are too young, you can tell them that mommy and daddy will not be living together and that one of you is going to move out.

2. Tell The Truth

You, understandably, want to protect your children. However, every lie that you say now will impact your kids in the future and their relationship with you both. Be honest and tell them the truth. If they are too young to understand, tell them that you are not getting along.

3. Give Them Reassurance

Telling your kids about divorce may break their hearts. To make the situation a little better, reassure them that some things will be the same. For instance, mom will still put them to bed every night, and dad will continue to take them to school every morning.

To do this, both of you may need to work out the plan for your daily routines before you tell them about the divorce.

4. Tell Them That It Is Not Their Fault

It has been observed that sometimes children blame themselves for their parents’ divorce. They may feel that it would not have happened if they had behaved well. Or perhaps, they may take it upon themselves to bring you together.

These thoughts may become deep-rooted in their minds and affect them in more ways than you can imagine. Tell them that your divorce is not their fault. You can be gentle by saying that sometimes mommies and daddies want different things in life. Or tell them that you have been arguing a lot and would like to take a break from the current situation. However, it is not their fault in any way.

5. Hear Them Out

While talking to your kids about divorce, be patient and give them the attention they deserve. They may be at a loss for words, so help them express their feelings. Your children may not want to be honest out of fear of hurting you. In some scenarios, they may even want to blame you for the divorce.

Allow them time to soak it all in. Try to encourage your children to express their feelings and let them know that you are there to hear them out.

6. Tell Them You Love Them

It is essential to reassure your children that your love for them will still be the same even after the divorce. Tell them that you know it is a significant change for the family, and you are ready to give them the time and space they need to accept it.

In the end, tell them that you love them no matter what, and that is one thing that is never going to change. It is the most powerful message that you can give to your children at this precarious stage.

Divorce can be much harsher on the kids than the couple, as the former does not understand what went wrong. Therefore, it is imperative to make them aware of the whole situation and let them know that both their parents will always love them. Also, the kids should be made aware that they are not responsible for the divorce in any way. The parents should sit together to talk to the child, allow them to react, and clarify any doubts that they may have. Finally, give them enough time to process this information.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you start talking to your kids about divorce?

Let your child know that both of you love them. Give them a hint of the issues with your partner, and then you can progress deeper into the matter and explain the situation and clarify their doubts.

At what age does divorce affect a child?

Kids of all ages are affected by divorce. They each react differently. However, most kids between the ages of 6-13 and some teens may take the divorce the hardest.

Is divorce traumatic for a child?

It depends on how the divorce occurred and the relationship between both parents after the divorce. If both parents have a good time with their kid (separately or together), don’t talk bad about each other to the kid, support their child, and create a safe environment for the child, the kid can take the divorce easier. On the other hand, messy divorces are more traumatic for children.

Should I stay in an unhappy marriage for my child?

If two people are unhappy, their child will know it. Unhappy partners often fight, this can affect your child’s well-being and their outlook on marriage.

Is divorce harder on an only child?

Divorce can be hard for an only child. They may think they can’t look to their parents for help and choosing one parent to talk to might cause problems with the other. And they don’t have any siblings to reach out to either.

Who gets the kids in a divorce?

This is decided by the judge. In most cases, the mother gets custodial rights. However, both parents can get joint custody too.

Key Takeaways

  • The best way to break the news about your divorce to your children is for both the partners to address them together, allow them to process the decision, and let them know that both of you will be there for them no matter what.
  • While there is never a perfect time for telling your children the news of your divorce, preferably do it at your home during the weekends so that you can address any questions they may have.
  • When you break the news to them, be honest with them and tell them why both of you made this decision. Let them know it’s not their fault and that your love for them will remain the same after the divorce.

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Casey M. Reiter

Casey M. Reiter is an appellate and litigation support attorney practicing in Florida. Her focus areas are Family and Marital... more