How To Tell Your Kids About Divorce

I am a child of divorce. It amazes me the memories I have of the details of being told, the exact words used, where I was, and what I did after I was told. This moment changed my life forever. Because divorce has such a major impact on kids, we will be focusing this week on how to tell them, how kids experience divorce at different developmental stages, and various tips for parents to attempt to do the least amount of damage on a child who's life is being turned upside down.

Things to remember BEFORE you tell your child:

  • Both parents should tell a child together. Both should talk equally. Plan this talk together before hand so you know who is saying what.
  • Don't "blame" each other. Keep the adult info to yourselves. Don't over explain the reasons.
  • Be in a mindset of love and not anger. You need to be the adult in the room for your child.
  • Tell your child in a private place, preferably at home where it feel comfortable and safe. Be face to face- not in the car.
  • Tell them at least 1-2 weeks before one person moves out. Do not move out right away.
  • Pick the day carefully based on your child. Some kids need routine and schedule to feel that somethings will not change, so telling them on a Thursday evening with them still going to school the next day would be good. Other kids need an extended time to let it sink in before they re-engage in their lives, so a Friday evening would be better.
  • Always let your child's teachers know what is going on right away, if not before. It would be good to set up a plan with the teacher and school counselor for when your child is struggling at school and review it with your child.
  • Pick the time of day carefully. Don't do it just before your child has something to do. Make sure they will have a few unplanned hours before an activity and bedtime. You want them to have an option to reach out to loved ones and friends if needed.
  • Studies say that you only have 60 seconds to tell your child the important points before they shut down and their mind starts to wonder. Use you time wisely. Don't ramble.
  • Tell them what will change for them (moving houses, schools, who is moving out and when, etc)
  • Give them a ideal schedule of what visitation will look like (maybe a calendar made out for them)
  • Reassure them that this divorce is between the parents- not the kids. It had nothing to do with them.
  • Reassure them of your love for them and that it will not change even when you don't see them daily.
  • Give your child a chance to talk about how they feel, ask questions, etc. Don't try to defend yourself or rescue your child from the painful feelings. It is appropriate for them to have negative feelings. Just empathize and support them.

Please take careful time to consider this life altering conversation for your children. Doing these things can help your child adjust better through the divorce.

Excellent Resource: Helping Your Kids Cope With Divorce The Sandcastles Way by Gary Neuman- there is an entire chapter about telling your kids along with vital info for all parents to know!

Check back tomorrow as we cover different developmental stages and how kids experience divorce. Thanks for reading!

Written by Teri Claassen MSW, LCSW, LCAC

Teri Claassen MSW, LCSW, LCAC is a licensed therapist at Imagine Hope Counseling Group. Teri enjoys doing marriage counseling, individual counseling, couples and relationship counseling. Teri also does family counseling, child counseling, and adolescent counseling. Imagine Hope serves the Indianapolis area, including the surrounding areas of Carmel, Fishers, Noblesville, Zionsville, and Westfield.