How to Talk to Children About Divorce

How to Talk to Children About Divorce

Children are deeply affected by their parents’ divorce. They tend to handle the divorce better, however, when both parents cooperate and act in their children’s best interest. Together, parents should develop a plan beforehand about how they will talk to the children, be prepared to patiently answer all of the children’s questions and the likelihood of intense emotions.

Both parents should be present when the children are told and parents’ mood should be calm, rational, and supportive. Hostility between the parents should be avoided. Children should not be told about why their parents’ are divorcing at this time. Keep in mind that children often feel responsible for their parent’s divorce. For example that their misbehavior is the cause of the divorce.

They need to be assured repeatedly, both when they are told about the divorce and then throughout the divorce process, that the divorce is not their responsibility, and that they will always be loved by both parents.

Rona Subotnik and Gloria Harris, in their book Surviving Infidelity provide guidelines for helping children through the divorce process:

  1. Children should be told of the decision jointly by both parents without hostility or anger.
  2. They should not be put in the middle of adult conflicts by telling them about why the .
  3. Children need to know they are not responsible for the breakup of the marriage.
  4. Children should be told that it is the parents’ decision, and they cannot change it.
  5. Children need to know their parents still love them even though they no longer love each other.
  6. Children should be given concrete information about how their lives will change.
  7. Parents should listen to children’s concerns, and try to minimize disruption in their lives.
  8. Children should not be asked to take sides, carry messages, or become your confidants.
  9. Children should be given permission to love and enjoy the relationship with your former spouse and his or her family. Try to find positive things to say about them.

 A Suggestion

Talking to children about divorce is difficult. Everyone involved can have a wide range of emotional reactions that will be unique to the individual. Moment by moment, the children will need their parents’ support. Working with a professional therapist beforehand to learn how to talk to children about divorce can be very helpful.

Recommended reading:

Subotnik, Rona, and Gloria G. Harris. Surviving Infidelity (Second Edition) 1999

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