Explaining Divorce To Children

Divorce can be a difficult and challenging time for all involved, particularly younger children. When going through a separation, it’s important to explain the situation to your child in a way that makes them feel safe and loved and that helps them process what is happening in a healthy way.

Depending on their age, children may have several types of concerns about a divorce, including:

  • Emotional concerns
  • Misunderstandings or feelings of confusion
  • Practical questions

To help minimize emotional pain or misunderstandings, and to help your child transition from one household to two, it is important to communicate effectively.

Our Red Deer family counselling specialists can recommend useful strategies when talking about divorce to your children including:

  • Clearly outlining and explaining the situation
  • Addressing your child’s concerns
  • Adjusting your communication style to your child’s age and developmental stage
  • Keeping children out of the conflict

Want to know more?

How to Talk To Your Child About Divorce

Divorce and separation can be a difficult time for all involved and it’s important to ensure that your children receive all the support they need during this period.

Knowing how to talk to your child about a divorce can be challenging but here are some ways to make discussing difficult topics, such as joint child custody, a little less painful:

1. Clearly Outline & Explain the Situation

Studies show that many individuals remember a “snapshot” of the moment when they were told about their parents’ divorce. That’s why it is crucial to put thought into how you will tell your child about the divorce.

  • Discuss with your ex-spouse what you will tell the child about the divorce and opt to keep your explanation consistent
  • Discuss the situation with all children at once rather than instructing an older sibling to keep the divorce secret. This is because:
    • The need to keep a secret can put a burden on the older child
    • The younger child to feel upset or confused if they pick up on tension without being aware of what is going on
  • Stick to a consistent and age-appropriate explanation that does not assign blame. This helps prevent children feeling like they need to take sides.

2. Ensure Communication is Age-Appropriate

Divorce represents a pivotal shift in a child’s world and when told of the news, many may feel anxious or angry and have a hard time grasping how their lives will change.

Many family counsellors agree that the age at which a child’s parents divorce also has an impact on how he/she responds to the new family structure.

Here is a brief summary of what children comprehend at different ages and how you can help ease their transition.

Potential Concerns and Issues

Very Young Children Preschoolers School Aged Children Teens
  • Not fully able to comprehend the situation
  • Sensitive to changes in routine
  • May not yet understand what is going on with a separation or divorce
  • Feel as if they are being abandoned or that they are responsible for what is happening
  • May take sides, assign blame, and see issues in “black and white”
  • Feel like they want their old routine back, and hope or think their parents might get back together
  • Older school-aged children may express anger and feel hostile or torn between their parents
  • Teenagers are more mature and more fully able to understand the divorce
  • They may have an understanding of some of the causes
  • Because teens understand the practical side of divorce, they may wonder about issues such as
  • Moving and possibly
  • Changing schools

Communication Tips

Very Young Children Preschoolers School Aged Children Teens
  • Maintain a consistent routine if you have settled on joint custody
  • Develop a plan on how to explain the divorce gradually as the child becomes older and more capable of understanding
  • Maintain stability in routines
  • Reassure children that you love them and that neither parent is leaving or abandoning them
  • Reassure children that you love them and both parents will be there for them, but that the divorce is a final adult decision
  • Answer questions about practical concerns: school-aged children often have activities and friends that they are attached to
  • Keep communication with your ex either amicable or minimal to help the child avoid feelings of being torn
  • Provide emotional support and guidance
  • Be ready to listen to and answer any questions or address any frustration that they may have
  • Listen to their view about routines and try to keep things consistent

Learn More

3. Keep Kids Out of the Conflict

While it is important to adjust your communication style by age, there are several important communication tips that should be kept in mind no matter how old your child is.

It is important to:

  • Always reassure children that even though you are separating, both spouses want what’s best for them
  • Encourage children to talk openly and honestly with you about their feelings and thoughts
    • Make sure to keep your own answers honest
    • Be aware that your child may have unspoken questions, so check in and make sure that they are feeling okay.
    • If you feel your child would benefit from family counseling, seek out options that could be helpful.
  • Avoid arguing with your ex in front of your child. f you fear the situation will become too hostile, enlist the help of a Red Deer marriage counselling specialist or mediator
  • When talking about the situation, avoid blaming your spouse, being overly critical, encouraging your child to take your side, or attempting to “sabotage” their relationship with your ex
  • In situations with joint child custody, our Red Deer counselling specialists understand how important it is not to:
    • Use your child as a “messenger”
    • Treat them as a “prize” that you are trying to win from your ex
  • Avoid “venting” negative feelings to your child or treating them as your emotional support.

Contact our family counsellors

Contact Us

To learn how Red Deer family counselling can help you and your children work through the process of divorce, or to contact a family law office for information on joint custody, reach out to us by phone at 1-800-381-1303, or online.

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