5 Tips for Telling Your Kids About the Divorce

FAQ: How do we tell the kids about the divorce?

As a collaborative divorce attorney, I get this question frequently. I may be a trained lawyer, but I am here to tell you that few attorneys are adequately qualified to answer it. If you are working with a counselor or a psychologist, consider seeking their guidance. Their advice on the specifics and tactics for the conversation is well-worth the consultation fee.

While you search for the right professional, I can offer you my own take on the approach that I have seen work well.

  • Generally, it is better to have this conversation with both spouses and all the kids in the room together. Telling one child before others sets up the unfair expectation of needing to either keep a difficult secret or break the news to siblings. It can also imply that some children are better equipped to know the truth. Give thought and consideration to when and where you tell them, as the setting will color the way they hear and remember your words.
  • Make your words age-appropriate. Younger children may not have the vocabulary or the mental concepts to grasp the idea of a divorce. Even with older and adult children, it is better to use simple everyday terms (in other words, avoid the legalese).
  • Tell the truth. While your children may not need to know all the difficult details and factors that have contributed to the decision, understanding it will go a long way towards helping them accept it.
  • Avoid blaming each other or fighting. Pointing fingers can make your kids feel that they are the reason for the divorce, or that they must side with one parent against the other.
  • Emphasize strongly that the children are in no way “a cause” of the breakup of the marriage.

Kids may get emotional – be sure that you have a plan for how you will deal with those emotions. Some children react with relief that the tensions will soon be resolved. Others respond with hurt, sadness or disappointment. A mix of emotions isn’t uncommon, either. Give them a safe space to express their feelings, no matter what those are.

While a divorce is not the same as a death in the family, divorce is a serious and potentially traumatic event. Choosing the right words and working with a qualified mental health professional can help minimize the trauma and set everyone on the path to acceptance and recovery.

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