How to tell your children about your divorce

If you have kids and are preparing for divorce, it is important that you find the best way to tell them, to prepare them for the potentially sad and stressful road ahead.

Below are some suggestions on how to talk to your kids about this difficult topic. 

  1. Address the whole family

    It is usually best to share the news of divorce with the whole household present, and then to follow up with each child separately. Keeping communication simple, and speak in a way that your children will understand. Stay as honest and clear as possible, keeping in mind your child’s age and emotional maturity. Talk to your children in a quiet space on a day that isn’t too busy. The weekend is a good time, as it will give your children time to process the news without distractions, and approach you with questions immediately following, if need be. If there’s a significant age gap between your kids, you may be worried about your older child reacting drastically and upsetting a younger child. In this case, telling them separately may be better.

  2. Plan when and how

    If you and your spouse are still deciding whether to get a divorce, keep it to yourselves until you know for sure. Your children should be on a need-to-know basis with this, and must not be placed in uncertain circumstances. If your decision to divorce is finalised, make sure to prepare what you and your spouse are going to say. This is not the kind of conversation one can improvise. Consider using a few key messages that you feel are important for your children to hear, such as, “Even though things are changing, we will always be a family,” or “We both love you very much and nothing is going to change that.”

  3. Be loving and honest 

    Your children deserve to know why you are getting a divorce. However, do not give them a long-winded explanation that may confuse them. Explain that this is a decision that you and your spouse have made after a long time of trying to make things work better. Explain that this is an adult decision that has nothing do with anything the children did or said. Let your children know that your love for them hasn’t changed, and that you’ll still be caring for them in every way. 

  4. Avoid blame games 

    Children tend to prefer a message that does not involve blame. Rather, they want both parents to take ownership of the marriage ending. However angry you might be with your spouse, avoid arguing with them in front of your children, and don’t blame your spouse for the breakup. Even if the divorce is not a joint decision, you should present it as such, incorporating the word “we” frequently when explaining the decisions that have been made. Your children need to know that they can continue loving each parent fully without the worry of betraying one parent or feeling disloyal. 

  5. Welcome any and all emotions 

    There is no way to tell how your children will react, and so you must be ready to let them feel all their emotions, no matter what they may be. They may feel sad, worried, angry, and perhaps curious about what is to come. They may react in a variety of ways – a tantrum, tears, or perhaps simply pretending they didn’t hear you. Let your children know that you are listening to them and will help them process what they’re feeling.

  6. Be open to questions

    After learning of your divorce, your children may ask you all kinds of questions, depending on their age. These could range from, “Which parent will be moving out?”, or “Where will I live?”, or “Who’s going to look after me?” If your child is still a toddler or slightly older, you may be surprised to receive very basic questions. They will be worrying about their primary concerns, and how your divorce will immediately affect their lives, such as whether they will move to a new school, or if their friends can still play at the other parent’s house. The children who ask many questions need to be answered. Remember to be supportive, compassionate, and ready to answer all their queries and reassure them.

  7. Explain what the decision to divorce will look like

    Your kids will need and want to know how their schedules and activities will be affected by your divorce. If you can, tell them the plan; you can just explain the basics. You can tell them who will stay in the house, who will be leaving the home, where that parent is going, where the children will be staying and with whom. If you or your spouse is looking for a new place to live, feel free to invite your children to come and look at the place, but respect if they do not want to. They need to be told how you are going to structure things following the divorce. Ensure not to promise anything you cannot deliver, such as certain celebrations that you or your spouse may not be able to share with them. 

  8. Prepare your kids for school following the news

    After hearing about your divorce, your children will be processing a lot of emotions, and may start acting up when they go to school. Tell their teachers the day before you tell your kids, so that the teachers will be ready for any potential upset or misbehaviour. Ask teachers to be compassionate and discreet with the information, making sure they do not ask the children about it, or talk about it unless the children bring it up.

  9. Continue to reassure

    When you first break the news, but also in the days following, continue reminding your children that you will all get through this, together. Reassure them that they’re going to be alright, and that their parents will be alright. During this shift, they need to know that they still have a system of guidance and help, so that they can adjust and adapt to these changes. Let them know that even the most painful emotions will ease over time; this will help them to recover while remaining open about what they’re feeling.

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