How to Tell the Kids You Are Getting Divorced

Cropped rear view of parents reaching across table to clasp hand of sad-looking teenagerTelling the kids you are getting a divorce may be one of the most difficult conversations you can have with your children. Even if the reasons for the divorce are plainly evident, upon hearing that you are divorcing, your kids will have to grieve the loss of what could have been: the hope that their parents would always be together and the family unit would remain intact.

No matter how you tell your kids you are divorcing, it’s going to be difficult for them to process. However, you can help your children absorb the news by staying aware of their emotional states and responding accordingly. Try not to overwhelm them, but be clear about what is happening and how their day-to-day lives may be affected. When children feel isolated and kept in the dark, they may be more likely to experience trauma and fill in the blanks themselves. When children feel connected, the level of trauma they experience may be lowered significantly.

Here are some strategies you can follow to help your children receive the news that you are divorcing with a minimum amount of negative emotional fallout:

  • Make a plan with your soon-to-be ex to tell the children together that you are divorcing, ideally in the family home or another private, safe space where they can react freely.
  • Make sure your emotions are in check when you deliver the news.
  • Based on their experiences and those of their peers, different children may have different understandings of what getting divorced means. Communicate with your children about their perception of what it means to get divorced and the reality of what getting divorced will mean for your family.
  • Avoid giving more information than the children need right now.
  • Encourage your children to express what they are feeling—to cry, be angry, and vent—without defending your decision to get a divorce. Keep the focus on them.
  • Listen to your children’s responses to the news. Accept and validate their feelings, which may help limit any trauma they experience.
  • Keep a close eye on and stay emotionally connected to your children over the days and weeks following the announcement.

With divorce, remember that your relationship with your soon-to-be ex is not ending; it is changing. You will need to continue to work together to be supportive co-parents to your children all the way into adulthood. Demonstrating respect and care for the other parent sends your children the message that you also respect and care for them.

  • Never speak negatively about the other parent in front of the children. It can be difficult when emotions are charged to not make comments or express frustration about the other parent, but it is crucial your kids are not exposed to any negative sentiment you may have about your soon-to-be ex.
  • Even though your kids have likely heard “this decision has nothing to do with you” and “this is not your fault” a number of times, reassure them anyway. Children of divorce often blame themselves in the absence of other obvious clues.
  • Remind your children that you both love them very much, that your love is unconditional, and that it will never go away. Even if your children may know this to be true, they still need to hear it. Especially now.
  • Assuming the terms of your divorce allow for it, remind your children they can have contact with the other parent whenever they want. Provided the parental environment is safe on both sides, the objective now is to sustain as much stability as possible for your children.
  • Let your children know you are both available whenever they need to talk. If one parent is a favored confidant over the other, respect that and share information with each other as needed to facilitate stability and healing.
  • Expect your children to be more emotional than they typically would be as they process the divorce and what it will mean for their lives.
  • Offer to bring in a counselor or other trusted third party for support, either one-on-one or with one or both parents in attendance.

With divorce, remember that your relationship with your soon-to-be ex is not ending; it is changing. You will need to continue to work together to be supportive co-parents to your children all the way into adulthood. Demonstrating respect and care for the other parent sends your children the message that you also respect and care for them.

While telling your children you are divorcing can be extremely difficult, you and your children can come away from the experience emotionally stronger and with a deeper bond between you if the focus remains on the children and their needs.

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  • Amelia

    Amelia

    October 14th, 2016 at 6:00 AM

    There will never be an easy way to tell tour kids something like this, this is all the family dynamic that they have ever known so anything is going to be hard for them. I will say though that I think that the teen years would be the hardest time to do this because there is so much adolescent angst in their life at that time anyway so anything that you add to this is only going to be more pressure and potentially pain for them. I know that you have to look out for yourself and know that this is the best thing to do for the family and the relationship overall, but still a difficult choice.

  • Jack

    Jack

    October 14th, 2016 at 11:23 AM

    My parents were pretty matter of fact with us, but you would have had to have been a fool to not see it coming with the two of them. Still hard but not unexpected.

  • danielle

    danielle

    October 15th, 2016 at 6:17 AM

    Oh just go ahead and get the divorce if that is what the two of you want.
    My parents stayed together far too long, you know, “for the children”
    Seriously I think that it hurt all of us way more than it ever helped.

  • Garry

    Garry

    October 15th, 2016 at 1:25 PM

    Most parents want to do all the talking when really it would be better to let the kids engage, ask questions, express the things that they are feeling. I think that many parents just want to tell the kids what is going on and then automatically shut down but you know, the kids are going to want to know what all of this will mean to them and how their lives might change and I think that we owe it to them to tell them and give them the chance to ask questions.

  • tina

    tina

    October 17th, 2016 at 7:39 AM

    Don’t just sit them down and drop this kind of bombshell on them and expect that there will be no repercussions. There will be, even if your children are not the types who are going to say all of this out loud to you. They are going to need to talk all of this through, process it just like the people going through the actual divorce are, and as parents you have to remain committed to being there for them through what are sure to be tough times ahead.

  • Abigail

    Abigail

    October 17th, 2016 at 10:09 AM

    You wish that it never has to happen but this the real world and in the 21 st century almost half of all marriages will end in divorce. That never makes it any prettier or any easier but you would think that as a society we would have become a little more accustomed to it by now than we obviously are.

    I think that there have been times in the past where kids were made to feel ashamed because their parents could not hold things together in the marriage and of course that is unfair. But heck today it is like my child is the weird one because we are some of the only parents who haven’t been divorced.

  • Britt

    Britt

    October 18th, 2016 at 2:09 PM

    My mom and dad never really told us. It was just that one day our dad was gone, no explanation given and implied that there should be no questions asked. Real healthy right?

  • Nicole Urdang

    Nicole Urdang

    October 19th, 2016 at 5:35 AM

    If you are looking for more support, resources, and comfort as you navigate the seas of divorce, please check out the free site: holistic divorce counseling. There are no ads and nothing for sale.

  • legan

    legan

    October 19th, 2016 at 10:34 AM

    My parents always said the nastiest things about one another and their new spouses after they divorced and you can imagine the pain that that caused me and my brothers. We never knew who we could or should trust because we were always being told that the others were horrible people and that we should not even want to be around them. To say that we have been pretty screwed up is quite the understatement.

  • Parker

    Parker

    October 20th, 2016 at 10:47 AM

    The parents who are always trying to turn the kid against the other are the ones who really drive me mad!

  • ashford

    ashford

    October 21st, 2016 at 10:40 AM

    Don’t allow the kids to become the ones you confide in. I think that this is too hurtful and confusing to them.

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