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Talking to the Kids About Divorce

A divorce takes a huge toll on both parents and children, but there are things you can do to make the process and the transition easier on everyone. Your children will watch how you act toward your spouse and may emulate your behavior. Always be respectful towards your spouse at all times so your children will feel secure and loved.

  • Have as many plans in place as you can before telling your kids about the divorce, but if you are undecided about something, do not make a promise you cannot keep. You and your spouse should decide what you are going to say beforehand and approach the conversation together if possible.

  • Tell your children you will still be their parents although you may not see them every day, and that you will always love them.

  • Do not assume they already know what it is going on. They may have heard about divorce from friends, other adults, or on television and have formed an impression already. Explain that you can no longer get along, but that it is not their fault. They may not believe you or may try to hide their true feelings, so constant reassurance during and after the process is very important.

  • Don’t put your children in the middle of your conflicts – they should not be used as spies, delivery persons, or mediators. You are the adults and you will have to act like adults – responsibly and wisely. Do not ask them to participate in making major decisions or discuss any of the details of the divorce in order to win them over. At the same time, they do deserve to ask questions and you should be prepared to answer them as much as you can in honest, simple terms.

  • Do not try to get them to choose a side or badmouth your spouse, who is still their parent and has an equal right to their love and respect. Be on the lookout for your children to try and “fix” your marriage or cover it up from their friends or teachers. Kids are usually very loyal and it may take a while for them to get used to the idea that their parents have a different kind of relationship with each other than with them.

  • If you are questioning whether it is better to stay together for the kids, know that children look to their parents as a model of adult relationships. They will be influenced by how you act around each other, and if you are modeling bad behavior, they may think that is how all relationships should be.

Helping Them Adjust

  • Stick to your visitation duties and respect your spouse’s time. Plan both special activities and downtime if you are not in charge of primary care.

  • Do not add extra tension by continually undermining the other parent’s decisions and household rules or making negative remarks. Try to agree on as much as possible and stick to familiar daily routines and bedtimes. Consistency shows that you are both on the same page and are not trying to outdo the other.

  • When moving the children from one home to another, avoid lengthy or heated discussions with your spouse, especially if this is the only time you have to show your kids how you are getting along.

  • Ask your children to tell you which toys, clothes, snacks, and other favorite items they would like at each home. Buy duplicates so they will have something familiar when making the switch between places. Make a calendar so they can prepare ahead of time and develop a routine.

  • Evaluate your parenting plan often so it is appropriate for the circumstances.

  • If you are not the custodial parent, keep in touch with your children as often as you can when you are not with them, and stay available if they ever need or want to hear from you. Even a quick hello to let them know you are around may make a big difference in their day.

  • Do not stifle your kids or desperately try to win their attention and affection. Realize there will be times when they do not seem excited to be with you because they are missing their mom or dad. It is a normal reaction and not a reflection of your parenting ability.

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