Wondering how to tell kids about divorce? Telling your kids you are getting divorced may well be one of the most painful conversations you will have in your life.
It can be difficult for children of any age to comprehend, but particularly so for toddlers and younger children who find it hard to grasp what Mummy and Daddy are talking about.
Psychology Today says ‘Children will probably remember this conversation, what you say, when and where they hear it. It would be best to work with your spouse to decide how you will inform them…’
Getting divorced with kids opens up a minefield of questions and concerns. How do you tell them? When do you tell them and what do you tell them? Here are some expert tips and advice that can guide you through this already tricky time.
Maintain a united front
Come together as a team to tell your child you are getting divorced. Your child will want reassurance that Mummy and Daddy are still there for them no matter what happens. It is important you give your child time to digest the information, so choose your timing carefully.
Keep it simple
Agree on what you will say to your young child or toddler and be prepared for questions. Toddlers and younger kids can be easily overwhelmed, confused and distressed with too much information. It is important to be light on detail and focus on how the change will affect them. How kids react to divorce will vary depending on age and circumstance.
Explain divorce to your toddler … and explain it again
Be prepared to go over and over with your toddler what changes your family will experience when Mummy and Daddy separate. Toddlers and young children are highly dependent on their parents and will need to be continually reassured. They may also not understand the first time so be prepared for an ongoing conversation and muster a lot of patience.
Questions your toddler may ask
Your toddler needs to know they are safe, secure and loved. It will take time for them to understand why their parents no longer want to be together. It is important to be patient and provide as much gentle reassurance as possible. They will want to know:
- Do you still love me?
- Who will live with me?
- Where will Mummy live?
- Where will Daddy live?
- When will I see Mummy?
- When will I see Daddy?
- Do you still love each other?
Divorce and toddlers – common behaviours
When young kids and toddlers can’t communicate effectively with words, they will show you what they are feeling through their behaviours. They may have trouble sleeping, regress with bed-wetting or act out. They may become anxious through fear of abandonment. It is important to remember that children are resilient and can adapt to divorce better than we think.
To help your child adjust to their new way of life, it’s important to maintain their usual routine. They will crave stability, security and reassurance. Some parents of younger kids opt for a bird-nesting approach after divorce to minimise their child’s distress and upheaval. Bird nesting is where the child stays in the family home and mum and dad move in and out each week.
What not to tell kids about divorce
While you may be focused on how to tell kids about divorce, be careful not to let slip the things they shouldn’t hear. Divorce is usually a time of high emotions for everyone… including the kids. Before you tell your kids about the reasons for the divorce, consider how those reasons will affect your little one’s world view. For a young child, hearing of daddy’s bad behaviours or terrible things about mummy’s new boyfriend will only cause more trauma and confusion. Stick to the simple facts, swallow your pain and work hard to preserve the relationship between your child and former spouse.
Books for kids about divorce
Sharing books about divorce is a gentle way to help your toddler understand and come to terms with divorce. How to tell kids about divorce comes down to your relationship with the child and your ex. Remember that as tough as this is for you, it’s tougher for your children, so prepare yourself well and choose carefully how to tell kids about divorce. It’s one of those big conversations…prepare to get it right.
More resources on how to tell kids about divorce
- Family Relationships: Taking to Children about Separation
- Motherly: How to Talk Gently About Divorce
- Mum & Dad Have Something to Tell You (Psychology Today)
For more information on divorce and toddlers you can also read Relationships Australia’s booklet What about the children?