One of the best things parents can do for the children
is to actually plan the divorce before speaking to the kids.
This is probably too late for most of the parents reading this
article, but for the minority who are thinking about divorce
and have not yet “pulled the plug,” the next three pages are
First, be absolutely certain that the divorce or separation
is actually going to happen before you tell the kids. Try to
confer with the other parent and for the sake of your children,
put aside hurt and angry feelings. Make decisions together about
the details you will need to tell your children. If you do not have
this conversation beforehand, you may end up having it in front of,
or worse, through your kids. Sometimes mediators help if the
parents cannot communicate and are about to go to war. (The
content of this conversation and the agreements precipitated likely
will form the backbone of later court orders. Think carefully. )
Then, think about how much advanced warning your child will
need once he or she knows what is coming. There is no magic
formula, but as parents, you know more about your child’s emotional
maturity than anyone else. If you have an older child, talk to him
or her at least a month before you and your soon-to-be-ex begin
living apart. Toddlers don’t need as much time so parents can wait
until a week or two before introducing any big changes. Little
children have little sense of time. All children need to know is
that they are safe and will be well taken care of, so if parents
presage upcoming changes with this kind of promise, even if they
can’t yet understand the precise meaning of your words, children will
take the news better if their basic needs are met. When parents
finally settle on a course of action, they will need to actually sit
down and tell the child(ren). Before doing so, consider the
1) Try to have both parents present for the discussion. Timing
may or may not play a role. However, assuming it is, pick a relaxed
time of day, when there are no impending commitments.
2) Use simple language. Be straightforward. Acknowledge that it’s
a sad situation and that your child is likely to experience big,
3) Allow your child to cry, become angry, or have other natural
4) Have empathy and be sensitive. Show your children some of your
feelings. The trick is to be congruent (genuinely showing some of
the parent’s real feelings) while not over doing it in front of the
5) Process, do not vent. Children need to know the parents will still
take care of them and are not compromised, but at the same time
children need to know they can emote and that parents will accept
their feelings, even if the children get mad at them. Stay calm if
this is possible. Kids will take their cue from your demeanor.
6) Let kids know that you and your ex-partner love them and will keep
them safe, whether you’re together or not.
7) Give the children general reasons for the split-up.
8) Be clear about general and some specific expectations.
For example, talk about the new living arrangements or visitation
schedules, if known. Who is going to live, where? Is anyone
leaving the home?
9) Avoid blaming the other parent even if one parent really thinks
the other was the cause. Now is the time to present a “unified
front” to the children. Children need some transition time and later
will ask much deeper and more extensive questions about why the parents
are separating. Don’t share adult problems with a child.
Stay with the children until their first round of reactions and
questions are exhausted.