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How to tell your children you’re getting divorced

Having to tell your children that you're getting divorced is heartbreaking - no matter how old they are. It's not something you ever expect to have to do.

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You’re consumed with guilt that your family unit is splitting up and worried about how the children will react.

If you’ve come from a broken family yourself, it’s probably something you promised yourself that you would never let happen to your children and yet here you are … Life happens and not always according to how we planned it.

Unfortunately single parent households and blended families are increasingly common nowadays, with 42% of marriages ending in divorce. And this doesn’t include couples who just lived together who split up.

If you’ve got to the point that you need to tell your children you’re getting a divorce then there are definitely things that you can do to try and manage that conversation as best as you can.

  1. Tell them together – There is no easy way to break the news to your children, but no matter what your differences are with your partner, it’s so important that you show a united front and tell the children together as a couple.
  1. Decide beforehand what you will say – it’s going to be emotional and it’s likely that your children will be upset. By knowing what you will say beforehand, it will help you to manage your emotions and to feel more in control. It also helps to ensure that you remember to tell the children the important facts they need to know. Practice what you’re going to say out loud beforehand so you’re prepared.
  1. Make sure you allow plenty of time – Don’t tell them just before bedtime as they are likely to be upset as well as tired. Make sure you have allowed enough time with them afterwards to reassure them and to answer all their questions
  1. Reassure them that they are still loved by both of you – Make sure they know that you both still love them – that you always will do – and that your split will never change that.
  1. Reassure them that this is not their fault – it’s only natural that some children will assume it’s their fault and that they have done something wrong. They need to know that the decision has nothing to do with them and that they couldn’t have done anything to change it.
  1. Keep it simple – especially if you have younger children. Explain it to them in words that they will understand – for example they may not understand the word divorce.
  1. Don’t blame your partner – It’s essential that you don’t do this and you show a united front when you tell them. Avoid anger, guilt or blame. Don’t put the children in a position that they feel they have to choose between the two of you, or have to blame one of you.
  1. Tell them what will happen – If you can, it’s better to tell the children once you have most of the details worked out so they’re not left in a period of limbo. Tell them where the other partner will be living and when they will see them going forward. Reassure them that you will both always be there for them and that you can Facetime every night etc. Try not to overwhelm them at this stage with too much information unless they specifically ask.
  1. Don’t get emotional – easier said than done in this situation when your children are likely to be upset. But you need to reassure them that everything will be ok and keeping control of your emotions supports this. You can breakdown afterwards – but wait until you’re alone. If they see you upset, they will be worried about you as well.
  1. Focus on the positives – Try and pull out some positives for them for example they will have a new bedroom that they can decorate or they’ll get to spend more quality time with you both.

Remember that you both are role models for your children. They will take their lead from you so be mindful of how you behave. This doesn’t automatically have to be a negative experience for your children – but that’s down to both of you. It can be a life lesson for them in how to handle adversity, how to bounce back from it and make the best of situations. It will help to build their resilience for later in life.

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