Getting divorced – talking with your children about your separation/divorce

Child psychologist with a little girl, a child is cryingDeciding to get a divorce is never easy. Many parents resist telling their children as they are unsure how to deal with the topic. Discussing your divorce sooner rather than later is beneficial to your child. It is also likely that you will have multiple conversations about the divorce and associated changes as they occur over time. Here are some useful tips for talking about the changes that are about to happen.

  • Use simple age-appropriate language to discuss the changes with your child and make sure that they understand clearly what is happening.
  • Do not be vague as this exacerbates uncertainty. Be clear that “mum and dad are not going to be living together anymore, but that both mum and dad love you very much”.
  • Ensure that your child knows that none of this is their fault, and it is a decision that both parents have given much thought to.
  • Make sure you have set aside enough time to address any difficult questions. Children will want to know where they will live, how often they will see each parent and why the two of you can’t work things out, to name a few. Be as clear and honest as you can about the answers.
  • If there are questions that you aren’t sure about, then tell your child that you are still working on the details. Be sure to revisit the question when you have worked out the answer.
  • It is also really important to be prepared to answer questions more than once. Your child will be seeking security so she may ask the same question more than once or in different ways. This is her way of making sense of the changes and ensuring things are stable. Making time to sit and talk about her concerns will also help her feel more secure.

It is not easy to talk about separation and divorce with our children, but it is important. If you feel you may need some assistance with this, it may help to speak with a child psychologist.

divorce1.1Divorce is never an easy process and less so for children. Parents often get caught up in the negative emotions around the loss of their relationship and forget that children also have to deal with the process. It is essential to talk to your children about your separation or divorce. Children may not understand exactly what is going on, but they will pick up that something is changing and that there is a lot of tension in the air. Research suggests that three quarters of separating parents talk with their children about the divorce for a grand total of ten minutes! (

Yes, it will be uncomfortable and awkward, and likely quite emotional. Divorce and separation can result in quite a bit of insecurity in children due to the big changes that are happening within the family. When parents talk openly, and repeatedly (as your child needs), with their children about the divorce, children have a better chance of dealing with the changes.

Of course we don’t want parents to confide in their children. Talking to your children about the divorce or separation needs to be done in an age appropriate way. No matter what age your child is you may expect them to feel upset and unsettled with the changes. It will help them tremendously to know what is happening and that everyone is feeling upset and a little uncertain. Try to keep it as simple as possible when talking to your child about your divorce. Do not discuss your detailed feelings with your child, it is not their responsibility to look after your feelings. Your child does have the right to know what is happening, however, so discussing the process as simply as possible will be beneficial and make sure that you let them know that everything will be OK. Children will also need some time to process and make sense of the changes, so be prepared to have a number of conversations on the topic over time.

A cute tired boy and his mother on the porch at home showing loveDivorce is a difficult time for parents and children alike. Your child is bound to see you feeling sad or angry despite your best attempts to hide it from them. Your child is also going to feel sad and/or angry at times. There is nothing inherently wrong with your child witnessing your emotions – it can even be healthy. However you want to avoid dumping your emotions on your child. Rather, you want to be able to talk about, and deal with, your emotions in a healthy way.

Being honest about feeling sad, angry, confused, and all the other uncomfortable emotions that may arise in this situation helps your child to feel like they are not alone with their feelings. However, parents need to be careful not to let their children feel as if they need to take care of you. Make sure that your child knows you are OK and that you are strong enough to deal with your, and your child’s feelings.

Allow your child the time to talk about his feelings. Reflect them back and show your child you understand and accept the feelings he is expressing. It is important that you validate your child’s feelings. For example, “You seem to be angry at Dad and I. It’s ok to be angry with what’s happening. I am here to talk about it with you when you are ready.” It is also useful to let your child know that they will have mixed feelings about the changes happening, and for you to be prepared yourself for your child to have some positive feelings such as relief, excitement (eg. Having a new room at one parent’s house), and humour.

If it seems too difficult to hear your child’s anger or sadness at the moment then it is a good idea to find someone else that your child can talk to. This may be your ex-partner, another family member, trusted family friend, or teacher. Professional help can also assist both you and your child to work through the difficult and strong emotions that can be provoked by a divorce.


Parenting Skills