Break It to Them Gently: Your Kids’ Reaction to News of Divorce

Married couple thinking how to tell their child about their divorceBreaking news: you and your husband decided to part ways, and you aren’t sure how to tell your kids about it. Kids of different ages react and cope differently.

You know you have to tell them about the divorce as gently and clearly as possible, but their responses to the news are beyond your control. As a parent, you have to brace yourself for emotional outbursts or eerie silence from the young ones and prepare to vary your approach to each of them as you talk about your divorce.

Babies and Toddlers

What to expect: Babies and toddlers have little understanding about the situation, so there’s generally no direct reaction from them when you first tell them. As the family dynamics begin to change, however, they may become distant to the noncustodial parent.

For toddlers, they may catch on and notice the frequent absence of one parent, leading to loneliness and withdrawal, if not tantrums.

What you can say/do: When breaking the news to young children, make it clear that you and your spouse mutually decided to the separation, but will still be present as much as you can in their lives. Assure them that you will not stop being parents even as you stop being married. Then, agree to have your spouse frequently visit the kids to make them see that they still have their mom and dad around.

School-age Kids and Adolescents

What to expect: Older kids can show extreme reactions to the divorce. Either they’ll be angry, or they shut off. Your adolescent may lose motivation in school and many other things, or quit interacting with you and their friends altogether. You may miss out on these responses and think of them as pre-teen rage.

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What you can say/do: Older kids and adolescents are concerned about what will happen to them following the divorce. They may also be more prone to blaming one parent for the situation, so it’s important to sit them down and tell them it’s a decision made out of respect. Don’t make your spouse look bad, and tell them that you are still their parents, whom they must respect. But, it also won’t hurt to use a friendly approach to get them to confide to you about their concerns. Balance being a parent and friend, because they need both in this situation.

Teens

What to Expect: Bad news and raging hormones don’t make a pleasant response. Your teens may act up, run away, or challenge you to a screaming match of who ruined who’s life.

What you can say do: This is an age where they want control over their lives and it may mean shutting you off their lives. Before they do that, remind them that you’re there to help them deal with the situation and that you trust them to be accountable with how they cope with it. Build their confidence and give them assurance, before letting them have their space.

Breaking the news of a broken marriage to the kids is never easy. Do it anyway, as a loving and responsible parent would.