Home » Resources » Divorce Mediation Articles » Parenting Articles » Talking with Children about Divorce

Talking with Children about Divorce

Among the first questions parents must answer in a separation or divorce are how, when, and what to tell their children. Because telling children may be painful, parents could be tempted to delay this task. It is usually better for children, however, to know about the decision immediately, and before a parent moves. The way this information is presented can set the tone for a child’s response. If possible, both parents should tell each of their children about the divorce at the same time.

Although individual response may vary, parents need to know that children will be anxious and worried about what this situation means. They need to think about several questions.

What do children need to know?

What don’t children need to know?

What do children worry about?

Parents should ask their children what they are worried about, recognizing that children might not be able to identify their concerns initially.

What can parents do to reassure children?

How can parents help children during a divorce?

Following is a list of ways you can help your children survive your divorce. Check off the ones you have done and circle the ones you plan to do.









What shouldn’t parents say?

Following is a list of destructive remarks that you should not make to your children. If you find yourself saying words like these, stop and think about how they might affect your children. All of these remarks raise fear and anxiety.


Wallerstein, Judith S. and Joan Berlin Kelly. 1980. Surviving the Breakup: How Children and Parents Cope With Divorce. Basic Books.

Wallerstein, Judith S. and Sandra Blakeslee. 1990. Second Chances: Men, Women and Children A Decade After Divorce – Who Wins, Who Loses – and Why. Ticknor & Fields, N.Y.

Family Life 3

Originally developed as Parenting Apart: Strategies for Effective Co-Parenting by M. Mulroy, R. Sabatelli, C. Malley, and R. Waldron (1995), University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension. Adapted with permission for use in Iowa by Lesia Oesterreich, ISU Extension family life specialist.

Editor: Jolene McCoy

Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Nolan R. Hartwig, interim director, Cooperative Extension Service, Iowa State University of Science and Technology, Ames, Iowa.

. . . and justice for all The Iowa Cooperative Extension Service’s programs and policies are consistent with pertinent federal and state laws and regulations on nondiscrimination. Many materials can be made available in alternative formats for ADA clients.

January 1996

Talking with Children (PM 1638) (PDF)