How To Tell Kids About Divorce And Separation

This article was written by Michael Vallejo

Divorce is stressful for parents, but even more so for kids. Shock, sadness, anger, confusion, and guilt are some of the reactions that children may have in response to their parents breaking up. However, you can help them cope with this negative experience by knowing how to tell kids about divorce. 

Preparing for the Conversation

Before talking to kids about divorce, both parents need to be on the same page on what to say. Carefully think about how to get the essential information across without overwhelming them. Anticipate any questions that may arise so you can help them understand the situation better. 

During the conversation, your kids need to feel that both parents will still be there when it comes to parenting. Your main priority should be to let your children know that they will still be loved and cared for. Additionally, you also need to decide how and when you will open the conversation. 

Lastly, don’t forget to let your children express their emotions about the news. Divorce can feel like a huge loss for them. Listen to them and actively ask them about what they are feeling. 

How to Tell Kids About Divorce and Separation

Telling kids about divorce is never easy. But there are some things you can do to help your children handle the news better. 

Be honest, but not overwhelming

Your children deserve the truth about the separation, but you might not be prepared to share details that are too personal. On that note, giving them simple and general information will be helpful. 

You can add important details that they need to know, but try not to overwhelm them. It is always better to let them ask questions compared to providing plenty of information that they might not understand.

Choose the right time and place

Plan your conversation on a day when both parents and children are free. This way, there would be minimal distractions and everyone involved can focus on the conversation. Pick a time of day when there is nothing planned.

For example, don’t do it before your kids go to school or baseball practice. Avoid holidays or special occasions. Instead, it might be best to tell them during the weekend, which gives them time to process the information. 

Additionally, pick a place where the kids will feel safe. For most children, this could be at home where they won’t be scared to show their emotions. 

Use age-appropriate language

When planning what to say to your children, remember to use language that is appropriate to their age. Their age will determine their understanding of the situation and their reaction. 

For example, younger children might not fully comprehend that the separation is permanent compared to adolescents and adult children. 

When explaining divorce to a child, especially young kids, you might need to use language that they understand. For example, you could say, “Mommy and Daddy have decided to live in different houses, but we still love you and will take care of you.”

Generally, older kids might ask for more details compared to younger kids, who will understand better when given a simple explanation. But regardless of their age, it’s important to reinforce the message that your relationship with them will never change. 

Reassure them it’s not their fault

During the conversation, be clear that the separation is not anyone’s fault. Younger children tend to see things from a self-focused perspective, which might lead them to believe that they are the cause of the divorce. For example, they might think that they can stop the separation if they did better in school or had behaved better. 

For this reason, it is important to be open to questions before they come to a false conclusion. Parents should take time to reassure their kids that the divorce is not anyone’s fault and that they are loved no matter what happens.

Remind them that you love them

Children might fear that you might not love them anymore as a result of the separation. They need the reassurance that they are still loved and will be taken care of even after a divorce. 

The most important thing is to reassure them that even after the separation, you will still continue to be their parents. The fact that you will always be their mother or father will not change. 

Avoid blaming the other parent

While being upfront about the divorce is important, you also need to show a united front as parents, even if you’re emotionally hurting. Stay as calm and level-headed as possible. 

Additionally, avoid blaming the other parent for the divorce, even if you feel like doing so. By blaming someone, your children will feel caught in the middle. 

Right now, your children’s well-being is the most important. Focus on giving them the support that they need to understand that they are still loved. 

Avoid arguing

It might be difficult to get along with the other parent when you’re separating, but arguing will only make the situation worse for your children. By seeing you fight, they might feel that they have to pick who to side with or mediate the argument. 

Don’t argue in front of your kids. Instead, try to be polite to your ex-partner as much as possible. You might not have positive feelings toward them, but remember that your child has a right to both of you. 

Prepare them for changes

There are plenty of changes that will happen after a divorce. It’s helpful to explain the things that might be different so your kids won’t be shocked once they happen. It’s normal for them to feel anxious about big changes, but assure them that you will be there to explain the details as needed.

For example, your kids might want to know where they are going to live and who will take care of them. If you plan to live separately, tell them when and how often they’re going to see the other parent. They need to know that they can still spend time with both parents, even if living arrangements do change. 

Lastly, reassure them that some things will stay the same, such as their school, friendships, and hobbies.

Listen and allow them to express their emotions

Once you have brought up the divorce to your kids, expect them to show big emotions, such as sadness, shock, anger, or guilt. As a parent, you want your kids to support your decision. But it is equally important to give them space to express their emotions. 

By letting them know that it is okay to feel upset, you’re showing that you respect their feelings. Listen to what they have to say without intervening so they can feel heard. For example, you can ask questions about their thoughts and feelings instead of immediately looking for a way to cheer them up. 

Additionally, your children may have trouble expressing intense emotions, which may lead them to shut down. It may take some time before they can show their feelings.

For kids who are struggling, we recommend helping them check in with their emotions using these feelings worksheets. They’re designed to help them talk about their feelings and cope in a healthy way. 

Provide reassurance about the future

The best way to support kids throughout a divorce is to let them know that both parents are still on the same team when it comes to parenting. Always remind them that they will be loved even after the separation. 

Other than words, your actions will help reassure your children. You can show them that you love them through hugs or just by being present when they need you. 

Offer resources and support

Many children will have difficulty transitioning to a new life after a big change. The good news is that some schools offer programs to help kids whose parents are going through a divorce. 

If you’re struggling during this time, it would also be helpful to get support for yourself. Lean on people you trust, such as certain family members and friends. You might also benefit from talking with a therapist about your emotions. 

By learning how to cope with your own negative emotions, you can offer the right support for your kids.

Frequently Asked Questions

Telling your kids about your divorce is never easy, so you may still have some questions about the topic. We’ve prepared a list of FAQs below: 

What age do you tell your kids about divorce?

A divorce can happen regardless of how old your kids are. But there are age-appropriate strategies you can try when telling kids about the separation. Below are some general guidelines:

0-5 years: Very young children are fully dependent on their parents, and might not understand how a divorce can affect their family. Try to keep explanations clear, short, and straightforward.

They might also not be able to express their feelings as well, so be on the watch for signs that they’re struggling. 

6-11 years: Children aged 6 to 11 years old are still dependent on their parents but are also interested in spending time with friends. Continue to support them in the activities that they love, because it can help them emotionally this time. They might also have a better understanding of complicated situations and may be able to express their feelings better. It is helpful to keep explanations simple but be open to more questions as well. 

12-18 years: Teenagers may exhibit feelings of frustration or resentment, directing anger at the parent that they think initiated the divorce. They may feel disappointed in their parents and worry about being loved. Watch out for destructive behaviors, such as school failure and drug use, and always be there to support them. The best way to handle this is to keep arguments private and try to encourage them to love both parents. Let them express their feelings and talk to you about the divorce. 

Adult children: For adults, the divorce of their parents can come off as a shock, especially if it happens so late in the marriage. They may think twice about their happy childhood memories, so try your best to avoid talking about marital problems that have been there for years. Discuss your decision with them as adults, while still keeping personal details private. 

At what age is a child most affected by divorce?

Divorce will affect children of all ages. But it can be tougher on elementary schoolers aged 6 to 12 because they’re old enough to remember the good memories of having a family. Because they’re older, they also have an idea of the concept of self-blame. 

They might be thinking if they have a part in causing the divorce. If these thoughts aren’t addressed, they could lead to depression. They might also lash out in anger while saying common phrases like, “I want to live with Mom!”

The best thing to do is to present a united front with your soon-to-be ex-partner. Avoid arguing in front of the children and always try to be polite with the other parent. The good news is that children of this age will eventually come to terms with the divorce as they mature. 

How soon should you tell kids about divorce?

The perfect timing to bring up the news will differ according to the situation, but the sooner you can tell your kids about your divorce, the better. Children are intuitive, so they will have an idea of what is happening. It is better to hear the news from you than from anyone else. 

Before telling your kids, make sure that the decision is final. But holding off until the final moment can also be bad. For example, kids can be traumatized if they found out that one parent left suddenly, and you had to explain the situation afterward. 

The Bottom Line

Divorce is difficult for everyone involved, especially the children. That’s why knowing how to talk to kids about divorce is important. Planning ahead what to say during the conversation can help reduce their pain and distress. 

The key takeaway is to be as amiable with your future ex-spouse as you can in front of your kids and use age-appropriate language to help them understand the situation. Lastly, don’t forget to remind them that you still love them and will always be there even after the separation. 

Take Care of Yourself

Remember the importance of keeping yourself healthy in this difficult time. Try to make good sleep and exercise a priority. Carefully manage your diet and alcohol intake. Get sunlight, reach out to friends and consider individual therapy if you notice your well-being deteriorating. Do this for yourself, but also for your kids. One of their primary concerns will likely be how you are going to be through this process. Kids are very astute judges of these things and just telling them you are fine will not convince them if they can see that you are not. If you want to reach out for individual or family therapy, please reach us here. 

This article was written by Michael Vallejo