Telling your children that you are getting divorced is an emotional experience. Before you begin this conversation, work through the numerous thoughts, feelings, and memories you might experience during your talk. Rehearse what you’ll say several times so that you can remain in control of your thoughts, feelings, and actions when you do talk to your children.  It’s not uncommon for parents to seek advice on what to say. Many will meet with their therapist, coach, and/or their attorney to learn how to best handle this discussion.

Plan your conversation in advance

Before you sit down to tell your children that you are getting a divorce, you need to create a plan.  First, you should speak to your spouse. Ideally, the two of you should talk to your children together. But if that isn’t possible, then you should coordinate what you will say and how you will say, so that your messaging is consistent. Second,  take time to craft a message that’s at a level that matches your child’s age and developmental stage. It’s important that they can genuinely understand what you’re telling them. Finally,  select an appropriate time to have this conversation. They should be allowed plenty of time to process what you told them and had the opportunity to ask questions. Ideally, your conversation will take place at the beginning of a weekend as opposed to a school night right before bed.

What to tell your children: Keep it simple

There are five major points that you need to get across during your conversation.

  1. Your parents have not been getting along, and we’ve decided that it’s in everybody’s best interests for us to separate. That means we will no longer live together or be married to each other.
  2. You are not the reason for the divorce, and it’s not your fault. (Children frequently assume that they are somehow responsible for your problems, so it’s important to make it clear that’s not the case.)
  3. Your parents will continue to love you. Being apart from each other will allow each of us to continue to show you our love without fighting with each other.
  4. Everyone’s lives will change, and this is an opportunity for the relationships and love between each parent and each child to change for the better.
  5. We are both available to help you further process this new situation. We’ll continue to discuss what’s changing and help each of you adjust to this new reality.

Maintain communication with the school and your children

When you tell your children, you should also notify your children’s schools. While they don’t need to know the details of your divorce, you should share important information such as the temporary access schedule. You should also make them aware of how your children are processing this news and any concerns you may have. Staff will be on the lookout for major behavioral changes, and most educators and school-based mental health professionals have experience helping children adjust to this major life change. Staying in communication with the school can help you manage any potential issues that may arise.

You should also maintain an open and welcoming line of communication with your children. The first conversation is just the beginning. As they process everything and changes begin to occur, they’ll need someone to talk to. Check-in with them and ask how they’re doing and if they have any questions.  Children react differently to their parent’s divorce, and some may need therapy in order to process this new situation. Speaking with them regularly will help you determine if they need additional support.

In conclusion

Telling your children about a big life change requires preparation. You and your partner should be prepared to communicate a supportive, loving message and remain open to further discussions. Throughout your divorce, it’s important to maintain a child-centered focus by supporting your children’s relationship with their other parent.

If you’re still unsure about how to speak to your children, there are a number of excellent books on this topic for adults and children. There are also books that can help you continue discussions with your children, providing them with a deeper understanding of this major life change. Make sure to find books that are appropriate for your child’s age and developmental level.