Talking to Your Children About Your Divorce
Photo Credit: JackF /

Communicating Clearly and Effectively Through the Process

You wanted to make it work. You did everything in your power to keep the relationship alive. For you, for your spouse, and especially for your children, you worked to stay together.

All of the long discussions, the sleepless nights, and the therapy sessions didn’t seem to yield the help you needed. Despite your best efforts, the relationship is over. Divorce is coming.

With as many as half of all marriages in the U.S. ending in divorce, you are not alone in your decision to split, but this does make your next steps any easier. You have to call the lawyer, divide your assets, determine the new housing options, discuss custody and visitation issues, and cope with your own stresses and struggles.

Before you can do any of that, you need to do what you have been dreading. You have to tell the kids.

No one looks forward to the process of informing their children the marriage is over. You may worry your children will react with devastating sadness or irrational anger.

You worry they will put the responsibility on you and side with your spouse. You worry they will blame themselves. It’s true there are many unwanted effects this conversation can produce, but with some planning and patience, the dialogue can be a success.

Start Early, Speak Often

If you wait to speak with your children until the divorce is certain, you have waited too long. This is a common error, as parents are worried about alarming their children or giving them too much information.

In actuality, children are quite perceptive at any age. There is a good chance they have an understanding of the tension or discord within the relationship. By telling them nothing, children begin jumping to their own conclusions about the status of your relationship.

Unfortunately, their assessment will lack accuracy. They might imagine things are worse than they are.

Speaking often is as important as speaking early. If you share your relationship troubles in an appropriate way, but then say nothing more for weeks or months, your children will begin to fall back into the habit of assuming the worst.

Your communication on the subject does not need to be constant. It only needs to be consistent.

Reduce Emotion

There is no doubt the content of what you are saying to your children is emotional. After all, relationships require emotion to survive.

The problem here is emotion stands in the way of clear communication. If you are angry or tearful, it is too easy to focus only on the emotion and lose track of the content. This will lead to an unproductive conversation.

You May Also Like

Speak in a Group

In divorce, there is a risk of the children being pushed and pulled in different directions by the parents, even if it is unintentional. To avoid this, you and your spouse need to maintain communication with each other to plan and process how to discuss the situation with the children.

Agreeing on an approach will help express a steady theme. This will help by allowing the children to hear the same information at the same time.

Additionally, the family will benefit from discussing these issues as a group, not fragmented segments. When people break off to talk about the divorce, there is an increased chance of some becoming aligned against one or the other spouse based on subjective information.

Keep It Age Appropriate

No matter what you say, you should focus on maintaining a level of age appropriateness. Information geared towards an audience older or younger than your children will miss the mark and serve as a setback to your goal.

If your children are only a few years apart in age, set your target for the middle. If your children are divided by many years, you will need to convey the same message in different ways.

Consider meeting with the older child or children first, and then having them join you when you speak to the younger child or children. This helps to foster a team approach rather than everyone feeling left out, isolated, and alone.

Ask Questions

Remember, conversations are two-way streets. This means your children should be speaking as much as you are.

When children are stressed, uncomfortable, or uncertain, they may stay silent. To reduce this, ask questions. Get their reactions in the form of thoughts and feelings. Ask if they have noticed the changes in the marriage and how they would like the divorce to proceed.

The open dialogue is essential. If you find yourself in a soliloquy, stop to ask a question.

Keep It Honest and Positive

Certainly, divorce is a negative life event, but the more you focus on the negativity, the more it will consume you and your children. You have the tricky task of trying to find the balance between being honest and being positive.

Luckily, they do not have to be mutually exclusive. There will be an overlap between the two, and it is your job to find it and emphasize it throughout the family.

A good way to do this is set your focus on the future and how the divorce will only be a momentary disruption. The divorce will allow you and your spouse move into a place where happiness is an option.

When the spouses are happier, the children will reap the rewards of a household unhindered by tension and stress.

State the Priority

In the beginning, middle, and end of each conversation about the subject, make sure to emphasize that the children are the priority in this and every situation. Let them know this decision will produce short-term discomfort for all, but it will increase the opportunity for long-term peace and love.

Divorce does not equal failure. Failure only enters the equation when opportunities for desirable communication are missed and undesirable habits are established.

Success comes from open, direct, and assertive communication with your children that focuses on optimism and flexibility. Divorce is not a good situation, but a few tweaks to your communication style can make it a little better for you and your children.