Talking with your Children
about your Divorce

girl and mom

Talking with your children about your divorce is probably one of the most difficult aspects of divorce for most parents. While you may have been thinking about the divorce for awhile, it's usually a surprise to your children. You may be struggling to even find the right words. Divorce is a grown up process and children have no way of really understanding your reasons. Naturally you don't want hurt your children or worry them, and yet you know that the decision you have made and what you are going to tell them is quite likely to do both of those things.

Talking with Your Children:
Don't leave them in the Dark

Talking with your children about your divorce and what is happening in their family is the kindest and most important thing you can do for your children . As much as we adults would like to think otherwise, our children are usually pretty tuned in to our emotions. They seem to have a sixth sense that tells them when things are not going so well with their parents. Talking with your children about your separation and/or divorce is one of the most important things you can do to help them successfully deal with your divorce.

Think of talking with your children about the divorce in an ongoing series of small talks, rather than the one "big talk." Your children are going to have questions for you long after the initial separation; and probably long after the divorce is final. Be prepared to answer their questions as honestly and carefully as you can. Here are some guidelines to help.

Talking with your Children:
Help them Understand

  • If at all possible, talk with your children together. Difficult as this may be, it is very important. They need to hear from both of you at the same time so as to not hear different explanations or feel that they are expected to take sides with one or the other of you.

  • Timing is always a bit tricky, but as a general rule, tell your children about the divorce approximately 2 weeks before one of you moves out. Longer than 2 weeks leaves your children thinking and hoping that maybe the divorce really isn't going to happen. Under 2 weeks creates anxiety and stress for your children because it will seem to them like one of you has just disappeared. If you are still living together in the house - say in different parts of the house, refrain from telling your children until you know that one of you is moving out.

  • Pick a time to talk when you and the children are not tired, hungry, rushed or otherwise distracted.

  • Tell your children that this is a decision that you made together. Say this even if it was not a mutual decision. The last thing you want is to draw your children into blaming one parent or taking sides.

  • Ask your children what they think divorce means. Listen carefully to what they say and correct any misperceptions they may have.

  • Describe your plan for how they will spend time with each of you. Use language appropriate to your children's ages.

  • Plan to talk again in a few days. Avoid what I call hit and run talks where you drop the news and then leave. The last thing your children need is a dramatic scene to deal with. After your talk, go about your business around the house so that your children will have time to sort out what you've just told them. Be available if they come to you with questions or just need to cuddle or do something with you.

Talking with your Children:
What to Say/What to Do

  • What you say to your children will depend upon how old they are and their unique personalities. You are the experts on your children and know them the very best of anyone in their lives. Generally, these suggestions may help you organize your thoughts and prepare yourself for talking with your children.

  • Use age-appropriate language. You might start out this way: (for purposes of this example we have Daddy initiating the conversation. Either parent can begin.)

    Mommy and I have something to tell you. We are not getting along with each other anymore. You may have noticed this. We've tried very hard to make things better, but it hasn't gotten better. We've decided that the only way to make things better for us is to get a divorce. We both love you very much and that will never change. We will make sure that you get to see and spend time with both of us. We also promise to make sure that you never have to choose between us.

    At this point you might want to ask your children what they think divorce means. Listen carefully to their answers and gently correct any misperceptions they may have. Then describe for them exactly what is going to happen.

    Divorce means that two people are no longer married to each other. It means we won't be living together in the same house. Next Friday Daddy is going to be moving to another house.

    If your children are young, you might want to show them on a calendar where today is and then where next Friday is. Count out the days and perhaps place a sticker or draw a picture on moving day.

  • Your children need to know that you recognize that this decision you've made is going to impact their lives. Don't be too quick to soothe their feelings until you've really heard what your children have to say.

    developmental stages

    Questions about Divorce

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