Children and Divorce

Calm Concerns by Being Prepared and Talk when You’re Ready
By Heather Cameron

Ten-year-old Lauren found out her parents were getting a divorce when she overheard her mother crying to a friend on the telephone. Not wishing to add to her mother’s sadness, she kept what she had overheard to herself and waited nearly a week for her mother to tell her. In the meantime, she fretted about where she was going to live, how far away her dad would move, and why her parents didn’t love her enough for them to be a family. It was a very long and confusing week for the little girl.

We all know that divorce can be very hard on children, but by being prepared when you break the news to them you can help to allay some of their concerns and sadness. Before you begin, make sure that divorce is indeed part of your family’s future. Do not talk about divorce with your children if you are still unsure about your plans.

Tell them you love them

First and foremost, be sure to tell your children that both their parents love them and assure them — more than once — that the divorce is in no way, shape or form their fault. Kids need to understand that Mom and Dad will always be Mom and Dad, even if they are no longer husband and wife. Explain that the love between you and your spouse may have changed, but a child and parent will always love one another, no matter what.

Present a united front

You and your spouse need to put aside any differences and think about your children first. You should decide in advance how you will present the issue of your impending divorce to your children and make sure you are both in agreement on how to explain it to them. You don’t want to be having the discussion of what or how much to tell them when you are actually standing in front of your children. You want to be honest but you also want to protect them — the intimate details of your marriage breakdown do not have to be shared with your kids. If your spouse is out of the picture or not interested in a united front, you still want to prepare what you are going to say ahead of time so you don’t let anger or emotion affect how you explain the situation to your kids. If you do not want to handle this conversation on your own, find a family counsellor or friend to support you. 

Make sure there is time

Choose your timing wisely when telling children about the divorce. Make sure they don’t have to run off to school or an activity so they have plenty of time to ask you questions or process the information at their own pace. They could have many questions for you both, so make sure you are available to answer them. Be honest in explaining what will be changing over the next while and what will not.

Be respectful

Understand that your kids will have lots of questions — even ones you don’t have answers for — so be patient and calm when they are scared or angry or sad. Similarly, you and your spouse need to be respectful of each other, despite your differences. Don’t complain about your ex to your children. The relationship your children have with their other parent must last a lifetime, so don’t sabotage it with blame or bitterness.

Respect also means parents should not treat their children as pawns. Parents who withhold support payments or deny their former spouse access to the children for no legitimate reason are harming their children in their efforts to harm their ex.

Let them be kids

Do not make messengers of your children. If you need to discuss issues with your ex, do it directly or, if relations are too tense between you, choose a third party to act as an unbiased communicator. Do not use your children to communicate as this can make them feel they need to side with one parent or the other. Similarly, do not let your child become your confidant. You should not be sharing grown-up worries or frustrations with young children.

Support your children

Support your kids in as many ways as possible. Remember to stay involved in their lives and ask plenty of questions to gauge how they are coping. Provide routines so they can feel more secure by knowing what each day will bring. After you tell your children about the divorce, be sure to contact grandparents and other close family members, your children’s teachers, their school counsellor and any other special adults in their lives so these people can offer their support and also let you know if there are any changes in your child’s behaviour that might be of concern.

Take care of yourself, too

In order to provide stability in the home, you need to take care of yourself. Talk to a professional if you need guidance or support, try not to let anger or bitterness cloud your life, and plan for a new future ahead. Your family may look different after divorce, but it is still very much your family.

Helpful Books

For children 4 to 10

My Mom and Dad are Getting a Divorce!: A healing book about divorce for children 4 to 12
Florence Bienenfeld

Dinosaurs Divorce: A guide for changing families
Marc Brown & Laurie Krasny Brown

I Don’t Want to Talk About It
Jeanie Franz Ransom

At Daddy’s on Saturdays
Linda Walvoord Girard

The Days of Summer
Eve Bunting

For children over 10 or teens:

Rope Burn
Jan Siebold

The Divorce Express
Paula Danzinger

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