Telling Children About Divorce

No child wants to hear that their parents are getting a divorce, but it should not keep you from telling him the truth. It is important to understand what your child may struggle with as their parents go their separate ways. They may feel lost and uncertain about their futures, they may feel responsible and they may have conflicting feelings such as being caught in the middle of no-win situation.  If you want to see what children have to say about divorce look at this “The Children Suffer” post.

Here are some tips on telling children about divorce

When telling children about divorce, you need to consider their age. You are not going to approach your 5-year-old the same as you would a 10-year-old or a teenager. Even though they need to hear the truth they don’t need the gruesome details. In fact, you don’t want to talk negatively about either parent.

Children will often have many different feelings such as:

  • Anger
  • Worry
  • Grief
  • Sadness
  • Abandoned
  • Confusion
  • Uncertainty

It will be challenging to address the feelings and questions your children may have the first time you sit down and talk with them. Plan on setting time aside to meet together as a family to discuss their feelings and address their questions.

Children want to know that both parents are going to continue to be part of their lives. Providing this is critical to their healing and them being able to deal with the divorce. Never put your children in the middle or try to turn them against the other parent; you are not only hurting the other parent but you and your child.

Remember that divorce is confusing for children. When you first talk with children, limit your discussion to the most important and most immediate issues; children can become confused if they are given too much information at once. Children need to hear that their basic needs will be met, that someone will still fix breakfast in the morning, help them with their homework, and tuck them into bed at night. Children also need to know that their relationship with BOTH parents will continue, if possible. In the face of so many changes, children also need to hear what will remain the same. Parents can reassure their children through words and actions that their love will continue despite the changes in routine family life.

During these family discussions, it is important for parents to tell children that the divorce is final and avoid giving children false hopes that the parents will reunite. Parents can also use this time to tell children that the divorce is not their fault. Many children believe that the divorce is a result of something that they did. Even younger children who seem to have no understanding of what is going on may need extra reassurance during this time. For instance, when asked why parents divorce, some children may explain that parents are divorcing because the children misbehaved or received bad grades in school. Children need repeated reassurance from parents that they are not responsible for the divorce.

Remember to ask children about their fears and concerns. Give children time to think about the divorce and the changes ahead. Meet again as a family to talk about new questions and to reassure children of your ongoing involvement in their lives.

Take your children’s questions and concerns seriously and LISTEN to what they say. As stated by one child, “this is gonna affect the rest of my life, and I don’t know if they just don’t realize that, or don’t care, or what, but I don’t feel like I’m being heard.”

Children need to know that parents recognize the impact of divorce on children’s lives. By listening to children’s thoughts and feelings about the divorce, parents demonstrate their ongoing care and concern.

Realize that feelings of loss and anger are typical. You can’t change your child’s feelings, but it is important to let your child know you understand them. For example, “I know you must be really sad that you can’t see your dad today.”

Source: University of Missouri

Telling your children about divorce is going to be one of the most challenging things you ever have to do so don’t take it lightly. Plan out what you are going to say and how. Remember to meet as a family and remain calm; this isn’t the time to hash out relationship problems with your partner.

Resources on Telling Children About Divorce

telling children about divorceMaking Divorce Easier on Your Child: 50 Effective Ways to Help Children Adjust