Once you and your spouse have made the decision to divorce and you have plans in place for custody and parenting time, you may be ready to begin talking with your kids about your divorce. Many parents like to prepare for this conversation before talking with their children. For some parents, planning for this conversation can be overwhelming and at the same time you really want it to go well. To help it go well, we have complied some resources to help.
Keys to Explaining Divorce to Children
There is never a “good” time to break the divorce news, but planning ahead can help this process go more smoothly.
Keep communication simple, and speak in terms your children will understand. Be as honest and straightforward as you can, while taking into consideration your child’s age and emotional maturity.
Do it together, if it is physically and psychologically safe.
Collaborating with your co-parent right now may be difficult. But talking with your children together with your co-parent sends a united message. Telling your children together avoids confusion— and helps them feel confident that their parents can still work together as a team to parent and guide them.
Plan the message together ahead of time (if necessary, with consultation).
Use “we” and “our” language — “We both love you and we will all get through this.”
Explain what is going to happen for them as best you can.
Providing ongoing consistency can help make a hard transition as easy as possible.
Acknowledge that some things will change and provide ongoing consistency when it’s possible. Introduce change slowly and plan for it fully (one to two years). Let your children know both parents are there to help them get through this.
Consider keeping discipline and rules the same as well as routines and systems such as schools, teams, friends, teachers, routines, and bedtimes.
Avoid withdrawing children from activities.
Give general (not specific) reasons and leave out messy details.
Kids benefit from having honest conversations about the changes their family is experiencing. For all kids, their parents’ message should be clear and simple. For younger children, provide a simpler message and provide more information for older children. Explain that these are adult decisions.
Remind your children: the divorce or separation is not their fault. They did nothing wrong!
Keys to Providing Ongoing Support After an Initial Conversation
A lot of attention and planning rightly goes into the initial conversation with your children about divorce. Your children will continue to need emotional support and reassurance from both of their parents.
Always spend time with your children, kids do better when they maintain close contact with both parents!
Be present when you are spending time with your children, and if you have limited time be sure to make it quality time.
Plan contact with the other parent and remind children of special days coming up for the other parent.
Remain emotionally stable and avoid “Disneyland” parenting!
After the initial conversation is over, be prepared for a lot of questions or none at all. Keep the lines of communication open. Provide your children with ongoing emotional security through this challenging transition. Listen to your children and make yourself available to discuss your children’s feelings. Remind your children frequently that they are loved by both parents!
For parents of young children, Sesame Street provides many great resources parents can share with their children, including this video:
Additional videos for parents with children of any age:
If you are a parent preparing to speak with your child about divorce, please use the comment section below to ask questions you would like answers to regarding this topic. If you are a parent who has already had a conversation with your child about divorce, please use the comment section below to share what worked well for you and your child.
About the Author
This post was written by Erica Roper. Erica is a Mediator and Program Assistant as part of an internship at MWI. For more information about internships at MWI click here. To learn more about MWI’s divorce and family mediation services, visit www.mwi.org/divorce or contact Josh Hoch, Director of Mediation Services, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 617-895-4028.