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  • May 30th, 2018

    Talking to Kids About Divorce: Dos and Don’ts


    When a couple decides to divorce, it affects the entire family. So how should you approach talking to kids about divorce? How can you keep the impact of divorce on children to a minimum?

    This is one of life’s situations where it’s important to remember that you can’t control anyone else’s feelings, actions, or emotions.

    You can, however, control your own – which is much easier said than done in emotionally-charged situations like this.

    Here are a few tips for talking to children about divorce and what to avoid. You’ll get through this together.

    Kids and Divorce: How to Minimize the Impact of Divorce on Children of all Ages

    Everyone responds to the news of a divorce differently. In general, kids’ thoughts, emotions, reactions, and coping mechanisms differ depending on their age group.

    But your kids aren’t robots; they’re people with unique personalities. You can’t write a math equation about kids and divorce.

    Let’s first take a look at how the effects of divorce on children differs by age group.

    Divorce and Toddlers

    Babies and very young children can’t really understand what’s happening around them the same way kids between about two and five can.

    Kids five and under can communicate a little better than babies but they still have a hard time using cognitive skills and piecing together future possibilities. For kids in this age range try the following strategies:

    • Keep things simple and speak matter-of-factly without seeming cold.
    • Let them know how and where their basic needs will be provided.
    • Provide straightforward answers to questions.
    • Don’t press them too much. Plan for multiple short conversations.

    School-age Children

    Kids up to ten can express themselves a little better and they’ve started to form relationships with people outside the family like friends and teachers. However, kids this age also have a tendency to see things in stark terms (as do many adults).

    • They might quickly blame one parent. Let them express frustration but provide calm and reasonable answers.
    • Make sure they stick to their routine and have a healthy outlet for expression.
    • Look out for symptoms of anxiety, fear, or depression. (Yes, even in children.)


    Pre-teens and teens will probably have a better grasp of what’s happening and the potential consequences. Remember that they aren’t quite adults, but they aren’t children, either.

    Not every conversation needs to be super formal: sometimes older kids may want to ask questions via text following the initial in-person conversation.

    • Preteens or teens may not feel comfortable expressing themselves around parents, so make sure they have a trusted adult to talk to.
    • Look for any drastic or chronic changes in behavior like isolation, anxiousness, substance abuse, or compulsive habits.
    • Encourage them to find healthy outlets for expression and to build relationships with trusted friends.

    Adult Children

    Adults aren’t immune to the impact of divorce on children. In fact, they may harbor extreme guilt feeling like you’ve stayed together unhappy for their sake. They may even feel doubt about their own perception of relationships.

    • Answer questions with straightforward answers.
    • Don’t use them to vent about their other parent.
    • Don’t expect them to think it’s not a big deal.

    What’s Healthy and Unhealthy When Talking to Kids About Divorce?

    There’s no step-by-step guide for talking to children about divorce. Go with the flow and cater to their emotions.

    Remember that you’re the adult. In many cases, one parent may not want the divorce. No matter the situation, you need to keep things together and set a healthy example – even/especially in uncomfortable situations like this.
    Sometimes, it’s okay to answer “I don’t know” if you aren’t sure about your emotions. Let your kids know it’s okay to be uncertain about your feelings.

    Tips for Talking to Children About Divorce

    Talking to kids about divorce isn’t easy but you can get through it together.

    • Be straightforward about their living situation, how their needs will be met, and objective facts.
    • Break the news to the entire family together.
    • Look out for unusual behavior like isolation, compulsive habits, or depression in kids of all ages.
    • Encourage them to keep up with their routine and express themselves in healthy ways.
    • Allow them to feel all the emotions they’re feeling – even if it makes you uncomfortable.
    • Expect to have several conversations.
    • Be as available and present as much as possible through texts, chat, phone calls, etc.

    Things to Avoid to Minimize the Effects of Divorce on Children

    People have a tendency to play out tough conversations in their head, but nothing ever goes as planned. Instead, try to avoid these things below. This will help you engage in a constructive conversation.

    • Don’t tell one child before another or force the burden of keeping secrets on anyone.
    • Don’t blurt out tropes like “it’s not your fault.” Be straightforward and just answer their questions.
    • Don’t beat around the bush or brush off their questions. If you’re unsure about something, say so.
    • Don’t expect one conversation to answer all of their questions. As they process things, more questions will surface.
    • Don’t make drastic changes to their routine if you can avoid it.
    • Don’t force them into conversations they don’t want to have. Find a trusted adult they can confide in.
    • Don’t expect any unusual behavior is normal when coping with a divorce. If something looks like abnormal adult coping behavior, chances are it’s also unhealthy for children.

    How Haefner Law Office Can Help

    At Haefner Law Office in St. Louis, family law is all we do. We understand that divorce is a difficult time for the whole family and we’re here to help minimize its impact to the best of our ability.

    Our team has decades of combined experience in contested and uncontested divorce, paternity, child custody and support, and all other aspects of family law. Our skills make us a great choice for handling even intense cases and protecting our clients.

    If you or a loved one are facing a divorce, don’t hesitate to contact Haefner Law Office or give us a call at 314-200-6101 to inquire about our flat rate pricing and areas of expertise.