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Feb 22, 2024

Talking with Children about Divorce

Children and Divorce

Among the first questions parents must answer in a separation or divorce are how, when, and what to tell their children. Telling children about the divorce may be hard; parents could be tempted to delay this task. However, it is usually better for children to know about the decision immediately.

The way you tell your children is critical. If possible, both parents should tell each of their children about the divorce simultaneously. Although individual responses may vary, parents need to know that children will be anxious and worried about what this situation means. They need to think about a couple of questions.

What Should Children Know?


  • They did not cause the divorce.
  • Neither parent is rejecting them.
  • They still have a family even though their parents will no longer be married.
  • Their parents will love them forever, even though their feelings for each other have changed.
  • Their parents will continue to take care of them.
  • There is a reason for the divorce. Parents should agree on an explanation in advance, remembering that too many details may confuse children. Some things will stay the same, and others will change.
  • Common questions children might ask are:
    • Who will I live with?
    • When will I see the other parent?
    • Where will I go to school?

It is also important to perceive each other in a negative light in front of your child unless it is completely necessary.

What Do Children Worry About in Divorce?


Understanding the concerns of children in the context of parental divorce requires a compassionate approach to their emotional and practical worries. Divorce is a significant change in a child’s life, impacting their sense of security, routine, and family dynamics. Here, we discuss various facets of what children might worry about during this challenging time and offer insights into how parents can support their children through the transition.

Emotional and Practical Concerns


Children often worry about the parent who is leaving or whom they will see less frequently. Questions like “Where will Dad live?” or “Will Mom be safe and happy?” reflect concerns about the well-being and comfort of the non-custodial parent. These worries stem from a fear of separation and the unknown.

The pressure to choose sides can be a significant source of stress for children. They may fear alienating one parent or disappointing family members. This dilemma can cause emotional turmoil and a sense of divided loyalty.

Divorce can alter how family occasions are celebrated, leading to worries about losing cherished traditions or navigating new dynamics during birthdays, holidays, and other events.

It can also alter practical aspects of a child’s routine — such as who will take care of them when they’re sick, drive them to extracurricular activities, or attend school events—and can also be a source of concern. These disruptions highlight the changes in daily support systems and routines.

Supporting Children Through Divorce


  • Open Communication: Encouraging an open dialogue is crucial. Parents should ask their children about their concerns and fears, recognizing that children may not immediately be able to articulate their feelings. Creating a safe space for these conversations allows children to express their worries without fear of judgment or exacerbating parental conflict.
  • Reassurance: Both parents need to reassure their children of their unchanging love and support. Emphasizing that the child is not responsible for the divorce and that both parents will continue to be there for them can help mitigate feelings of guilt or abandonment.
  • Consistency and Routine: To the extent possible, maintaining consistency in routines and daily life can help provide a sense of stability. Coordinating schedules, living arrangements, and involvement in activities can minimize the impact on the child’s sense of normalcy.
  • Professional Support: In some cases, children may benefit from talking to a counselor or therapist who specializes in family transitions. This can provide an additional outlet for them to explore their feelings and develop coping strategies in a supportive environment.

In the complexities of divorce, parents play a critical role in mitigating the emotional and psychological impact on their children. Making sure children feel secure, heard, and considered throughout the divorce process is essential for their well-being. Here, we explore practical steps parents can take to reassure their children during this transitional period.

Identifying and Addressing Children’s Concerns


After identifying their children’s concerns, parents should address these worries honestly and sensitively. Providing clear, age-appropriate explanations can help children understand the situation without overwhelming them. It’s important to avoid overburdening children with adult problems while being truthful about changes in their families.

Keeping children informed about major decisions, such as living arrangements, is crucial. This doesn’t mean burdening them with the decision-making process but rather informing them of changes that will directly affect their lives. Sharing information as soon as decisions are made can help children feel more secure and less anxious about the future.

Parents need to consider their children’s feelings when making significant decisions. This consideration doesn’t imply letting children dictate outcomes but rather ensuring they feel valued and heard. Acknowledging their emotions and perspectives can foster a supportive environment and help children cope with the divorce more effectively.

Divorce can be a deeply unsettling experience for children, leading to fears about the future. Parents need to reassure their children that despite the current challenges, things will eventually settle down, and life will improve. Emphasizing that both parents will continue to love and support them, regardless of the changes, can provide a sense of stability and security.

Strategies for Supporting Children


  • Maintain Routines: Keeping daily routines as consistent as possible can offer comfort and a sense of normalcy. Regular schedules for meals, school, activities, and bedtime can help children adjust to the changes in their family structure.
  • Encourage Expression: Allow children to express their thoughts and feelings about the divorce. This can be through conversations, art, writing, or play. Encouraging expression helps children process their emotions and can provide insights into their concerns.
  • Seek Support: Consider seeking support from family therapists or counselors specializing in divorce and children. Professional guidance can be beneficial for both parents and children in navigating the emotional complexities of divorce.
  • Co-Parenting Cooperation: To the extent possible, parents should strive to cooperate in their co-parenting efforts. Demonstrating mutual respect and a united front in parenting decisions can reassure children that they remain a priority for both parents.

Supporting Children Through Divorce


Navigating through divorce requires parents to prioritize their children’s emotional well-being, promoting open communication and providing reassurance and stability amidst change. Parents should address their children’s concerns honestly, maintain routines to offer a sense of normalcy and seek professional support when needed.

By working cooperatively and keeping the child’s best interests at heart, parents can help ease the transition, reinforcing the idea that despite the changes, the child remains loved and supported by both parents.