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How to talk to children about Divorce

Posted on September 19, 2011

Elaine Halligan is a parenting specialist and corporate speaker with The Parent Practice and has had 8 years experience working with parents to ensure they have the skills and strategies to bring out the best in their children and ensure they survive and flourish in a post divorce world.
When adults divorce their world is in turmoil and so is their children’s! This is a time when they need to have really good parenting and parents need to know what to do and what to say to the children to ensure they survive in a post divorce world. As adults we often do and say things that can be very confusing for our children so here are some top tips of what to say to the kids to give them the support they need.
1. Let the children know:
Their mother and father were happy once together
They were born out of love
They are still very much loved by each parent
The separation has nothing to do with the children – they are not to blame
The decision to separate is definitive and the children can’t get the parents back together again
It is not the children’s responsibility to try and make things better between Mum and Dad
Mum and Dad are sad but they will take care of their own feelings – it is not for the child to worry about this
You know this will be hard for them so they can ask questions or talk to either parent or to relatives or friends or teachers.
They will have lots of different feelings – this is normal

2. Carefully chose the time to tell the children; they will need time to assimilate the news so chose a time when there are no plans for a few days so they can ask questions; confusions can be cleared up and feelings aired.

3. Tell them together wherever possible – parents need to have the conversation as calmly and rationally as possible and united in creating a new structure that will keep the children safe. If parents are so conflicted that having a conversation may cause more tension then tell them separately. If talking separately be sure to say” Mum and Dad together have decided…….”

4. Admit that you as parents no longer love each other and reassure them that both parents will always love them. It may help to say that the love that adults have for each other is not the same as the love a parent feels for a child. Just in case they think their own parents may fall out of love with them!

5. Avoid Blame – often parents will say” it is important for the child to know the truth!” Ask yourself why a child needs to know about adult matters e.g infidelity. Children need to believe in the goodness and love of each parent whose DNA they share. Children know they are one part Mum and one part Dad, therefore if one parent is vilified they take that on board and feel part bad as well. The end result is self esteem suffers

6. Don’t demonize the other parent – a child has the right to access both parents. Children often miss their fathers but are fearful of voicing it because their fear a strong negative reaction from their mother. Shared parenting or co-parenting is possible and can work well if the children are allowed to love and respect both parents.

7. Let them know how life will change and what will remain the same – address practical issues of living arrangements; when they visit Dad’s House ; holidays ;pets ; money and school etc. An involved and informed child will feel more in control of his life and will be able to cope better

8. Speak in age appropriate language – don’t speak to the children about legal matters; financial matters or sex – if there has been an affair children do not need to know any details that will disturb them and convince them there is something wrong with their parent. To include children in these conversations will scare them and confuse them. If an affair is one of the main reasons for the divorce then both parents should tell the children that one has someone else in their life and has chosen to be with them. This will take superhuman reserves of dignity on behalf of the other partner but is essential for the child to preserve a relationship with the parent who is leaving.

9. Revisit the conversation as often as necessary -children will not absorb it all in one go. May help to have some flexibility around bedtime as this may be the moment when they find it easier to talk.

Next blog on “How children respond to family break up and signs of difficulties”
Give Elaine a call for a complimentary session to see if you would like to work with her

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3 Responses to “How to talk to children about Divorce”

  1. Divorce Blogger on September 20th, 2011 11:48 am

    I think it’s important to add that children of divorce need to cared for regardless of age. In my experience, many parents assume that their divorce will have a less significant effect on older children when nothing could be further from the truth.

    I agree with the fact that parents will need to practice significant restraint when discussing matters with their children, but it is absolutely essential that they do this.

  2. Elaine Halligan on September 20th, 2011 8:39 pm

    ” Thank you for your comments. We agree with you that all ages of children are affected and those most vulnerable are the babies-12 months of age if they are not the centre of their parent’s universe and of course the teenagers as during adolescence there are so many developmental changes going on. Practicing significant restraint in discussing adult matters is essential, but we recognise realistically it can take superhuman reserves of dignity! –

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