5 Steps to Explaining Divorce to Children

If you’re going through a separation or divorce, it’s important to explain this difficult situation to your children in a sensitive and timely manner.

Separation and divorce are one of life’s most difficult challenges, especially when children are involved. And one of the toughest moments that parents who are divorcing will face is breaking the news to their children. However, this difficult task can be made just a little smoother when parents keep a few key points in mind.

1.    Tell children they are not the cause of the divorce.

Children need to know that while the relationship between parents has changed, it hasn’t between parents and children. Be sure you tell your children that they are loved, that they were always wanted, and that they were not the cause of the separation.

2.   Break the news to your children at an appropriate time.

Family counselor Linda Achton explains “it’s not helpful if parents tell young children a long time in advance that there’s going to be a physical split. A physical split should be mentioned a week or ten days before the actual split happens, because children are left with the anxiety of when it’ll happen and what it’ll be like. Of course you don’t spring it on them the night before that mommy or daddy has left. You try to wait a week or so before the actual split.”

3.   Give children the information they need.

Children will want to understand how divorce or separation will specifically affect them.  They will want to know practical things such as where they will live, whether they be moving to another neighbourhood or school, how often will they see each parent, and whether they be able to keep the family pet.

Rhonda Freeman of the program Families in Transition says that providing information to children about separation can help ease anxiety. “Sometimes children haven’t been properly prepared for how separation or divorce will take place and that makes it more difficult for them to cope.”

4.   Allow children to grieve.

When parents do separate or divorce it’s important to be aware that      while the parent may be in pain over the marriage ending, children will be grieving too. “Kids go through the same emotions and grieving process that their parents are going through”, explains parent educator Sue Bourque. “It’s particularly hard on children because parents are going through their own grief and they tend to forget that their child is feeling the same. It doesn’t matter that the parent is thirty and the child is three, they’re both experiencing the same losses.”

Freeman agrees that reaction to divorce is in many ways similar to the reaction of a death. “I think it’s fair to say that both children and adults experience a loss with separation and, in fact, do grieve the loss, and need time to mourn the changes before they can move on to build a new life after separation and divorce.

5.   Listen to your child.

Parents can show support to children by listening. However that this can be hard to do at a time when a parent is turned inward and focused on his or her  own healing.  “It’s difficult to find the energy to give to that child and to be there and to listen. But parent needs to focus on the feelings that the child is having while they’re experiencing the divorce or separation”, explains Bourque.

When it comes to dealing with this difficult transition, all experts agree that counseling can go a long way in helping the entire family come to terms with this life altering experience.

For more information, check out these posts:

Adjusting to Divorce 

Children’s Fear of Divorce

How Divorce Affects Children’s Education

Divorce and Successful Shared Parenting

Adapted from The Parent Report Radio Show. Any advice or information contained herein should never be a substitute for professional and/or medical advice, diagnosis and treatment. For more information please review Terms of Service.

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