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Explaining Divorce & Separation to your Children

It is not easy to tell your children, at any age, that you are divorcing or separating. Here you can find useful examples and tips of ways to make it easier.
(3 minutes 8 seconds read)

Karen Bonnell
Karen is a coach that has over 25 years of experience working with individuals, couples, and families facing transition, loss, stress, and change.

Explaining Divorce & Separation to your Children

Divorce is hard for everyone involved and not only are you faced with wondering how you are going to coParent, but also how are you going to tell the children? Here are some tips and examples on how to talk to your children about your decision to divorce or separate:

“Dad/Mom and I are getting a divorce, which means we won’t be married anymore. I’m sad, but we’re not happy living together in one house. Sweetheart, this is an adult problem, not a kid problem — I don’t want you to worry that you have caused this or you should try to fix it. I’m so sorry this has to happen. Just know that even though we won’t be married anymore and living in the same house, both Dad and I will have a place where you will live with us— you’ll have a home with Mom and a home with Dad. And we’ll work together to make sure you feel loved and cared for by both of us.”

“Honey, Mom/Dad’s right, and I’m sorry about having to make these changes. But, we can tell you that you’re still going to go to your school, you’re still going to get to see your friends, and you’re still going to have one of us there for you to read bedtime stories and help with homework — sometimes it will be Mom and sometimes it will be me.”

Your children are forming their “family life story” — they’ve listened to what you’ve told them, they’ve overheard conversations; felt the changes, tensions, and concerns, and they’ve hoped for the best. It’s never too late to go back and help them understand a more positive, constructive message about divorce or separation. Also letting them know how you plan to coParent will ease their mind about what the future holds.

Key Concepts — When parents talk to kids about divorce/separation:

  • It is a grown-up issue that has to do with two adult partners—and as coParents, you will work together to make this change.
  • Regardless of how we might feel as adults, children don’t bene t from blaming one parent for the divorce/separation — judging a parent as bad, irresponsible, or breaking the family is harmful.
  • Children benefit from reassurance about the integrity of their family in two homes.
  • Children feel supported knowing that you’ll be going through this with them with love and support.
  • Reassuring children that they will emerge from this change with both of you is central to their security. Over time, the basic concepts may need to be repeated as variations on these themes emerge in the first year. As children adjust and grieve, they may go through periods of confusion, protest, or express deep hope or wishfulness that everyone could live together again.

Every child’s needs are unique, but what children commonly need (and have openly expressed to us), is to be able to:

  • Love, enjoy and learn with both their parents. ey don’t want to feel like they will hurt one by loving the other or having to make things “equal,” keeping secrets or editing what they say.
  • Have parents that listen to their feelings and comfort them, not the other way around.
  • Know their parents can take care of themselves; that they won’t fall apart in anger or sadness.
  • Continue to support them in their lives, their social activities, their school, their sports, and activities and not have to do chores or make decisions that are beyond their skills, capabilities, or age.
  • Count on their parents to take care of kid-related details without dropping the ball or arguing.
    Spend their special times (like birthdays) with both parents when possible.

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