What to Tell the Kids When You Divorce

conversation-with-kid“More than any words, it is the light that you are shining – or absence of it – that your children will remember. When parents are true to themselves, children learn honesty, self-respect, and inner peace.”

– Alan Cohen

It’s normal for parents to feel uncertain about how to give their children the right support through divorce or separation. Although it may be unknown territory, you can help your kids emerge from it feeling loved, confident, and strong.

At any age, kids may feel overwhelmed at the prospect of mom and dad splitting up. Helping your kids cope with divorce means providing stability in your home and attending to your children’s needs with a reassuring, positive attitude.

Talk to Your Kids

When it comes to telling your kids about your divorce, many parents freeze up. Make the conversation a little easier on both yourself and your children by preparing before you sit down to talk. If you can anticipate tough questions, deal with your own anxieties ahead of time, and plan carefully what you’ll be telling them, you’ll be better equipped to help your children handle the news. Give your children the benefit of an honest—but kid-friendly—explanation:

  1. Tell the truth. Your kids are entitled to know why you are getting a divorce, but long-winded reasons may only confuse them. Pick something simple and honest, like “We can’t get along anymore.”
  2. Say “I love you.” Letting your children know that your love for them hasn’t changed is a powerful message.
  3. Discuss the changes. Preempt your kids’ questions about changes in their lives by acknowledging that some things will be different now, and others won’t. Let them know that together you can deal with each detail as you go.
  4. Avoid blaming. Be respectful of your spouse when giving the reasons for the separation.  It’s vital to be honest with your kids, but important not to be critical of your children’s other parent.

Especially at the beginning of your separation or divorce, you’ll need to pick and choose how much to tell your children. In general, younger children need less detail and will do better with a simple explanation, while older kids may need more information. Do tell kids about changes in their living arrangements, school, or activities. No matter how much or how little you decide to tell your kids, remember that the information should be truthful above all else.

Let Your Kids Talk to You 

Support your children by helping them express emotions, and commit to truly listening to these feelings without getting defensive. Provide reassurance—calming fears, clearing up misunderstandings, and showing your unconditional love. Kids need to know that your divorce isn’t their fault. For kids, divorce can feel like loss: the loss of a parent, the loss of the life they know. You can help your children grieve and adjust to new circumstances by supporting their feelings:

  1. Listen. Encourage your child to share their feelings and really listen to them.
  2. Help them express. Children often have difficulty expressing their feelings. You can help by noticing their moods and encouraging them to talk.
  3. Let them be honest. Children might resist sharing their true feelings for fear of hurting you. Let them know that whatever they say is okay.
  4. Acknowledge. You may not be able to fix their problems or change their sadness to happiness, but you can show that you understand.

Children have a remarkable ability to heal when given the support and love they need. Your words, actions, and ability to remain consistent are all important tools to reassure your children of your unchanging love. Let your kids know that even though the physical circumstances of the family unit will change, they can continue to have healthy, loving relationships with both of their parents. Tell kids that things won’t always be easy, but that they will work out.

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