One of the most difficult things you will ever have to do as a parent is tell your children that their parents are breaking up. It is important that you shift your focus from your loss to your children’s loss. Divorce is about the dissolution of a husband-wife relationship. It marks a change in the parent-child relationship. Staying aware of this difference will help you effectively support your children. In talking with your children, stay focused on their feelings about this experience. If you focus on the spousal relationship, your own feelings may get in the way of good parenting.

 Long after the divorce dust settles and your children are grown what they will remember most about this significant family change is HOW THE ADULTS HANDLED THEMSELVES. You can save you kids a lot of pain and yourself a lot of embarrassment if you leave the screaming, blaming, drama and hysteria out of the equation. Seeing you falling apart frightens kids and makes them wonder if you still have what it takes to take care of them.

 Here are some tips for explaining the divorce to your children:

  •  Ÿ  If possible, both parents should be present. This illustrates to the children that you will still be able to co-parent.
  • Ÿ  Tell them close to the time that one of the parents is planning to move out. Telling them months in advance doesn’t “prepare them.” It will only make them anxious and worried.
  • Ÿ  Tell them calmly.
  • Ÿ  Keep it age appropriate. Don’t give them information that is over their heads.
  • Ÿ  Keep it short and sweet.
  • Ÿ  Explain that divorce is between the adults and that parents do not divorce children.
  • Ÿ  Ask for questions. Answer honesty with age-appropriate information. Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know the answer to that. When I do, I will tell you.” You don’t tell your children about marital issues, like your sex life or money problems, the details of divorce should also stay between the two of you.
  • Ÿ  Explain to your children the ways the divorce will affect them directly, i.e., will you move, will they stay in the same schools, and so on.
  • Ÿ  Remember that divorce begins for the children the day the living situation changes. On the day one parent leaves, that is the day their parents’ marriage ends.
  • Ÿ  Allow for your children to cry if they need to. It is important to let them grieve.
  • Ÿ  Reassure them that you will not leave them, even if you get angry (which is some children’s biggest fear) at them.
  • Ÿ  Reassure them that you will always love them.
  • Ÿ  Notify their teachers, scout leaders, karate instructor and anyone else who has contact with your child, so they can be aware of and sensitive to your child’s needs.
  • Ÿ  Be prepared for any and all reactions from, “that’s too bad, what’s for dinner?” to crying and yelling. Stay calm and be reassuring.
  • Ÿ  Remember your children will be as healthy about this as you are. They will take their cues from you.
  • Ÿ  Behave yourself! Keep your thoughts and feelings about your spouse to yourself. Recent research shows that it isn’t the divorce itself that damages children as much as the fighting, stonewalling, tension and icy silences between the parents.

 Continue to talk with your children about the process. As it is with discussions about sex or drugs, you do not just have one conversation and feel you have done your job! This conversation is only the introduction. An ongoing dialogue and open attitude will go a long way in minimizing possible negative effects. Be there for your children through this difficult time. As uncomfortable as this may be for you, your children need your guidance and support.

©2005/ 2009.  Donna F.  Ferber, LPC, LADC is a licensed psychotherapist in Connecticut. Adapted from her first book From Ex-Wife to Exceptional Life: A Woman’s Journey through Divorce which won Honorable Mention by the Independent Publishers Association.



  1. Jo on the 09. Oct, 2015 remarked #

    I wish to leave my husband after 15 yrs. But how do i tell my 2 adult children. My children are not my husbands children. And when they were teens my husband was over bearing and there was many fights with us all. My husband even now still is. I had already 1 child run away for a few years and only just gotten him back.but our mother son relationship is not what it was. It scares me to loose my chikdren.

    • Donna Ferber on the 09. Oct, 2015 remarked #

      Hi, sounds like your children will not be upset. Just tell them you are leaving and why but spare them the details.

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