Discussing divorce or separation with your child is one of the more difficult conversations you will have. But by approaching the situation from a position of love and support, you can help your child cope–and thrive–throughout this big change.
Remaining calm and sensitive to your child’s emotions when you talk to them about divorce can help ease them through this transition. Most importantly, your child will need consistent reassurances that both parents still love them. With both of your support, your child can learn how to successfully cope with the change. These research-based strategies for talking about divorce with your child can help guide your conversation.
Before approaching your child, make sure both parents are on the same page.
Talk about how you will discuss the divorce, and consider ways that you’ll answer questions your child might ask. Many parents freeze up when approaching the subject, so preparation can help you remain calm and steady while you talk to your preschooler. Importantly, try your best to avoid arguing or fighting in front of them. Children are more resilient and less stressed when there is less conflict between their parents.
Talk to your child about the divorce together, and give simple, straightforward explanations.
Your child doesn’t need to know all the details about why you’re getting divorced. But you can give them simple explanations for the separation. They might have a lot of questions, so do your best to remain patient with them as they sort through their thoughts and feelings. Common questions your child might ask include:
Child: “Why are you getting a divorce?” Parent: “I understand you might be feeling sad right now. We decided that we will be happier living in different homes.”
Child: “Why can’t you live together anymore?” Parent: “We think it would be best for the whole family if we lived separately.” Child: “Is it my fault?” Parent: “You haven’t done anything wrong, and this is not your fault. We’re so happy you’re our child, and we love you so much. That will never change.”
Child: “Will I still see you every day?” Parent: “We haven’t figured that out yet, but you will be the first to know when we do. I do know that we both will love you every single day.”
When answering your child’s questions, provide answers that are clear and honest, and continue to reassure your child that they will be safe and loved.
Discuss what won’t be changing with the divorce.
Your child might feel like everything is changing. Reminding them of the routines that will remain consistent throughout the separation can give them a sense of security. As their parent, you can also help by maintaining certain routines they’ve become used to like bedtime or mealtime rituals. And most importantly, keep reassuring them the biggest thing that won’t change is how much both parents love them.
Encourage your child to share their feelings, and help them manage their emotions.
Your child will likely experience a range of emotions during this time. But they might not have the communication skills to express themselves clearly. You can help your child by identifying the emotions they might be feeling and by listening to their concerns. This article explains how you can help your child name their emotions and manage big feelings. Your children might ask many questions over the coming weeks or months, and even repeat some of the same questions over again. It’s important to remain patient with your child and continue to answer their questions as if it’s the first time your child asked them.
Because children have no power over the situation, it can be even more difficult for them to accept that things are changing. Look for signs of regressions, such as bed-wetting again after being potty trained, or depression. If your child begins displaying these signs, get the appropriate help from their doctors.
While divorce can be a stressful time, most children adjust within just two years following the divorce, according to the American Psychological Association. By remaining calm and consistent, you can help ease the stress of this transition for your child.
If you need mental or emotional support during this time, there are many different services available to help. We’ve compiled a list of resources that can help.