How to Tell Kids about a Separation or Divorce

Posted by on Dec 30, 2018 in Healthy Separation and/or Divorce Counseling | Comments Off on How to Tell Kids about a Separation or Divorce

What do we say to the kids? This is a huge concern for couples who are considering separation or divorce. It’s natural to want to shield your children from pain or distress.

Of course, the experience of separation or divorce will be emotionally distressing. However, there are ways for parents to handle this effectively. Parents have an opportunity to help their children through this difficult situation in a way that provides a healthy adjustment for them and will not be traumatizing.

Plan Ahead

This is not a conversation you want to do on the fly or leave to chance. Plan out ahead of time what you are going to say. Both of you need to be responsible for talking about this with the kids. Make time to talk with each other to decide how to go about it. Agree what you want to say, not going to fight with one another, and not take sides.

Of course, it’s not always possible to do this, depending on your situation. If that is the case, set time aside separately to talk with your kids. However, make sure that you still on the same page about what to say.


This is not information you tell your kids right before they head off to school or go to bed. Allow an hour to say what you need to say, and answer questions. Plan to tell all of your children at the same time, unless there is a compelling reason why you can’t. Often, parents will tell the older child or children first. This makes things awkward as they become burdened with your secret.

Make Sure Your Decision is Real

If you’re still open to working things out with your partner, don’t tell the kids that you’re getting divorced. This will send a mixed message and be very confusing if, later on, you and your partner get back together. You need to be sure that you’re getting divorced. It’s not a decision to be made lightly.

What the Kids Really Need to Know about the Separation or Divorce

There are several pieces of critical information that your children need to hear:

  • That you and your partner can’t get along and have made the choice to live separately.  Don’t go into the details about why.
  • Your children need to know that you both love them and will be there for them forever.  Love continues for your children after the divorce, though that might be hard for them to understand right now.
  • It’s not their fault! Kids will often blame themselves for a divorce. Parents need to head this off at the pass.
  • Describe the logistics about how this separation will affect them. Give the details, such as where they will live. Now, instead of having one house they will have two houses and split their time between each of you. It’s helpful for kids to have some say about how visitation occurs, but they should not be making the final decision.

Recognize that the Work is Never Done

Kids will need time to process the fact that you both are divorcing. They will keep asking questions, so do your best to answer them as openly and honestly as possible. Avoid blaming the other parent for the situation. Remember, it’s important to listen to your kids and to hear their feelings.

Be the Adult

It’s okay for kids to know that you are sad.  In fact, it can be good for them to see their parents role-modeling how to express their emotions. However, you don’t want your kids responsible for comforting you either. You are there to comfort them.  

Know When to Ask for Help

If you need help, be okay asking for it. There are resources available for you. Also, find a therapist who can help you through the changes in your life and relationships.

A separation or divorce is going to be painful for your children. However, there are many positive things that both you and your partner can do to support them during this transition.

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