Learning how to talk to your children about divorce involves creating an open line of communication between both the parents and the children. When parents decide to separate, how they plan to tell the children is often the first question to cross their mind. However, when it comes to sitting down with their children, not many parents plan ahead, and even fewer plan this important discussion together. Taking the time to prepare this conversation with your children can help ease the trauma experienced due to divorce or separation.
Talking to children about divorce requires multiple conversations over time while continuing to provide your child with relevant information. Keep your child as informed as possible. By doing so, you create structure, ease their concerns, help organize their thinking, and help them feel more secure.
How To Prepare To Talk To Your Children About Divorce
If possible, it is best for both parents to sit down together in a civil manner with the child. Because divorce often brings feelings of hurt or anger, it may be difficult or even impossible for many parents to do this together. At this time, you want to think about what is best for your child. If being in the same room with your partner will lead to fighting, plan to set up consecutive times to talk with your children. If communicating with your partner in person is impossible, you may try reaching an agreement in regards to the children by email. Having a plan for the discussion not only benefits the child but also reduces anxiety and frustration for the parents.
What To Discuss With Your Partner When Planning
- What information is most important to your children and what do they need to hear?
- Remember to be factual and not emotionally harmful, especially between the child and the other parent.
- Agree on an acceptable “script” of who says what and in how much detail.
- Both parents should agree to contain their anger towards the other parent. Do not cause more harm to your child by taking the opportunity to damage your child’s relationship with the other parent.
- Discuss and agree on what topics are off-limits. Children do not need to know about all the details that lead to the decision to divorce, such as an affair, financial matter, or other adult behaviors.
- If possible, discuss how much time you will let your children adjust and emotionally prepare for the separation before living arrangements change.
What to Say When You Talk to Your Children about Divorce
Make sure you have a plan of action and follow through with it. Children need information and structure. Creating more questions creates more fear and anxiety. Merely saying, “Mommy and Daddy are getting a divorce, I don’t know what is going to happen,” sends your child into an emotional spiral. If you don’t know all the answers, try to get them before talking to your child.
What To Tell Your Children About Divorce
- First, tell them you are getting divorced.
- Inform them of the living arrangements and when the new living arrangement will take place. Discuss where Mommy will live, where will Daddy live, where will they live and what will happen to their stuff?
- Tell your children what they can expect in the next coming days. For example, when will Mommy or Daddy move their belongings, or will your child attend a new school, have a new babysitter, daycare, or other child care provider?
- Will they be able to see the other parent, how often, and for how much time?
- Remind your child that each of you still loves them and it is okay for them to continue to love each of you.
- Will they still be able to see their friends and remain involved in their activities?
- Will they still be able to see their other family members such as grandparents, aunts, or uncles?
Talking to your children about divorce is an opportunity to demonstrate to your child that though life’s path brings difficult changes, you still love them and will always care for them. By putting your children first and stepping back from angry and hurt feelings, you can demonstrate to yourself that you can handle this challenging time with maturity and in the best interest of your child.
There may be extreme circumstances that make talking to your child about divorce even more difficult. In cases involving family violence, child abuse, and mental illness, talking to your child about divorce may require special attention or even professional help. Seek guidance from a counselor, therapist, or even your family law attorney.
For additional materials on how to talk to your children about divorce, visit Sesame Street’s online toolkit, Little Children Big Challenges: Divorce. Their multimedia workshop offers free printable downloads, games, videos, and guides for talking to your children (ages 2-8) about divorce.