Do's and Don'ts for Talking to Kids about Divorce

Every year, thousands of children experience divorce. It can be difficult to predict how a child will react to news of a divorce, and their reaction will largely depend on the child’s age and personality, and the circumstances surrounding the divorce. Here are some do’s and don’ts when talking to kids about divorce.

Do’s

  • As soon as you and your spouse are certain of your plans to separate, talk to your children and explain the decision to live apart. It is best to have both parents present if possible, and to leave feelings of guilt, anger and blame out of the conversation. The best option would be for both parents to discuss how to approach your children about the separation with an experienced counselor prior to talking to the children.
  • Speak to children in an age-appropriate manner, and tailor your approach to the child’s maturity level and temperament. For example, do not tell a 4-year old that mommy and daddy are breaking up because daddy cheated on mommy.
  • If the children are young, pre-adolescents, you can explain that sometimes adults change the way they love each other, or that you and your spouse are going to live apart so that you won’t fight so much.
  • Be honest with children, but do not overwhelm them with information they are not capable of handling.
  • Reassure children that even though their parents are no longer going to be a couple, that each parent loves each child and will always be there to support them.
  • Reassure children that the divorce between you and your spouse is not their fault.
  • Allow room for children to be sad and upset, and listen to them when they express those feelings to you.
  • Attempt to minimize disruption to the child’s every day routine, and assure them that you will do your best to keep things as normal as possible.
  • Give children as much information about the future as possible and attempt to answer all their questions in a child friendly manner without making any negative statements about the other spouse.
  • Tell children that it is okay to spend time with the other parent as well, and that there is no reason to feel guilty about leaving one parent and visiting the other. Children will often struggle with a conflict of loyalty so it is important to reassure them of this.
  • Older children (10+) may want to speak to others about the divorce and their feelings. Parents should encourage children to do so.
  • Attend family counseling with your spouse and the children in order for the children to have professional guidance with this transition in their lives.

Don’ts

  • Do not criticize, complain, threaten or speak negatively about your ex-spouse to your children.
  • Do not pit children against their other parent or make them “choose” a parent.
  • Do not put on a show and pretend like nothing is going to change. Things are going to be different than when you and your spouse were together, but this doesn’t mean that things are going to be worse.
  • Do not lie to children. Because of their age, maturity level or level of intelligence it may be necessary to omit some information or explain things in a more simplified manner, but children will not benefit from being told lies.
  • Do not use your children as tools to ascertain information about your ex-spouse, as this puts the child in the middle of your relationship conflict.
  • Do not make false promises to children.
  • Do not use children as messengers for parent’s, post-divorce. If a parent needs to tell their ex-spouse something, they should do it themselves.
  • Do not tell your child that your ex-spouse doesn’t love them anymore.
  • Do not act in a negative way about your former spouse such that your children will pick up on your nonverbal cues about your former spouse.
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