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How to Talk to Children about Divorce

Learn how to talk to children about divorce in this Howcast video about child anxiety issues.


I'm here to help you with how to talk to your children about divorce. It's always an incredibly painful topic and time, and so of course it's not something that parents usually want to talk to their children about. But the first thing to think about and realize is that you need to talk to them and involve them. Avoiding it just makes it worse, and children are very perceptive. They sense when there is tension or problems with their parents because they look up to their parents for everything. So it's important to make sure you address it with them.

Now there's a few things to keep in mind to help you when you are talking to your kids about it. One is think about their age. A 3 or 4 or 5-year-old is really not going to understand it in quite the same way that a 12 or a 16-year-old does, but they will need to hear the words from you. So you want to use the real words especially because kids are listening to conversations all the time and you have to assume that they are hearing some of these words. You also want to make sure you talk to them when you have some kind of information, and details, and a plan. You may not know everything so you don't want to wait certainly until it's all wrapped up and dates and locations and things are all figured out.

At some point when there is going to be a change in the family because of a separation or a divorce, you want to make sure that they are part of that conversation. When you are talking to them in addition to making sure you give them the real information in an age appropriate way. So one thing to say that mom and dad are not going to be living together anymore, but the thing is we will always be taking care of you together. So again what you want to focus on is the information but also then the feeling.

Children in particular will always think of few things. They typically think it's their fault. They think, "If I'd only been better behaved, if I only had done my homework more, if I only had cleaned up my room, maybe this wouldn't have happened. They wouldn't have been mad," or, "They wouldn't have been fighting." Whatever it is, kids need to know that it is not their fault. You can probably never reassure them enough about that.

They also need to know what's going to change and what's going to stay the same. So they want some reassurance about their life and their environment, and that people are going to take care of them. Because again they think about it in terms of them and you should be thinking about it in terms of them and their world as much as possible. Then depending on the age of the child, you can have them be more or less involved in some of the decision making. Even very young children may have some say and know if you are going to be packing and going back and forth between mom and dad, maybe they pick which toys they bring. Whereas older children may be much more involved in some type of arrangement in terms of custody or living situations, but again respecting their views, their feelings, expecting some of the negative feelings, and being able to talk about it and walk them through as a family as much as possible together will be helpful.

Probably the thing that's the hardest sometimes is to make sure that it's the "friendly divorce." And that means that parents as individuals and as partners didn't get along, but as parents for their children, they should do whatever it takes to get along and parent those children together as one unit, even though they don't live together as a unit.

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