Telling Children about Divorce

How you are telling children about divorce and what you tell them has a significant impact on your children in the short run and in the long run. You better prepare yourselves thoroughly.

Share this Sesame Street video explaining divorce with your children:

The leavee and the leaver have different perspectives. The leavee usually feels pain, betrayel and frustration. This will influence the leavee's attitude and emotions when announcing the divorce. The leaver on the other hand, may feel relieved. This results in an opposite perspective.

When telling children about divorce, you and your ex have the first opportunity to act as a parenting team in a constructive way. It is important that you both realize what the effects of the emotions of both the leaver and the leavee are. Set your emotions aside and focus on what is important for your children.

How Do I Tell The Kids? How Do I Tell The Kids?

Most children believe a divorce of their parents will be devastating. When telling children about divorce, you could counterbalance this negative belief. For example by adding in some positive aspects. You can see the divorce as a learning experience for them. Of course there are many negative feelings about a divorce, but every new situation creates new opportunities as well. The Semame Street videos on this page about telling children about divorce can be helpful.

Your own responses and your attitude from the very beginning largely contribute to how they will feel about the divorce. If you demonstrate acceptance, your children will accept the divorce easier. If you display resistance, your children will resist too. The consequences are not only related to the sad event of the divorce, but it will set the tone for other traumatic happenings in their life.

The key of telling children about divorce sucessfully is to stay away from the blame game.Blaming leads to unpleasant discussion with your ex and might turn to fighting. You and your ex will loose respect in the eyes of your children. Worse, it invites your children to choose for one of you. It stands between you and your ex. It makes collaboration and operating as a parenting team very difficult when you keep fighting and disagreeing.

telling children about divorce: When

The best is to tell your children as soon as you made your final decision. If possible, get the whole family together and bring the announcement together with your spouse. Avoid telling it to your children individually. You might give different messages which of course can cause much more confusion.

The best way to tell your children is together. There is one but: only do it together if you can tell without blaming each other. As explained before, blaming results into disagreeing and fighting.

telling children about divorce: What

These are the most important topics to telling children about divorce straight away:

  • We love you. The divorce has nothing to do with it. Also if you move to a different place, tell your children that you they will see you often and that you will always love them. Also if you do not see them everyday. It is important for your children that they feel being loved by both of their parents for a healthy emotional development.
  • The divorce is not their fault.Especially children between the age of 5 and 10 often think that they caused the divorce because of some misbehaviour. Divorce is because of problems between grown up. Your children cannot fix it either. You have to repeat this over and over again.
  • Tell them where they will live and when. You could even work out a calendar with them. This brings clarity in their lives.
  • Tell them what happens to their school. Will they stay at the same school or will they change? If they have to change, when will that happen? What will be the consequences.
  • Ask them about their feelings about the divorce. It is important that your children are aware of their feelings. It is natural that they experience strong negative emotions. Tell them that the emotions will diminish over time. Talk to them about their emotions frequently (see more details about emotions below)
  • Answer their questions. Your children will have questions, concerns and ideas. Listen to them. Here is the Semame Street different feelings song:
  • Take time for them
  • Say as it is. Something like: "we will not be living together in the same house anymore". Stick to the facts and do not tell an emotional story. That will only confuse them. The focus must be on your children and not on you. Tell them what the consequences are for their daily life.

Telling children about divorce: What you should not do

  • Telling the reason of your divorce to your children is tricky. I'll explain why. Telling the reason of your divorce implies fingerpointing. You are only able to tell from your own perspective. You might think you know exactly why you divorce, but you do not want to tell your ex because your ex does not tell it properly in your eyes. A reason usually comes out as an excuse. As a parenting team, you make the best start by not saying anything about the reason of your divorce. That is key in telling.
  • There is an exception: if you divorce because of abuse, be it physical or mental of you or your children, you should tell the children about it. In this case, they have to know.
  • Telling children about divorce: Conversations

    After the initial announcement, have as many conversations with your children as you can about the subject. Try to give one message in each conversation. Not more. Of course you can answer questions about less related subjects, but keep your answers short. Keep your focus on the key message of the conversation.

    One of the first conversations after initially telling children about divorce should be concerning how the family structure will change. Be clear that the parenting continues as usual. Let them know that they are the most valuable to you. Assure them that they are not to blame for the divorce. It is not their fault. Repeat it if you think it is necessary. Also in a later stage: it is not their fault. They cannot break the marriage and they cannot fix it either.

    Your motives, what the daily consequences are for them, how routines will change, where you and them are going to live is not to be discussed during the first conversation, but only at a later stage.

    Telling children about divorce: Your emotions.

    Emotions kick in unexpectedly. Be careful to show your emotions, how you show them and when. If you seem to be broken, devastated from the divorce, there is a big change that your emotions will reflect on them. Strong emotions from one of both of the parents make your children feel to make a choice for one of you.

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