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While parents may be devastated or relieved by the divorce, children can be frightened and confused. Divorce can be misinterpreted by children unless the parents tell them what is happening, how they are involved and not involved and what is going to happen to them.

Children often believe they have caused the conflict between their mother and father; which, leads many children to assume the responsibility for bringing their parents back together, sometimes by sacrificing themselves. With care and attention, however, a family's strengths can be mobilized during a divorce and children can be helped to deal constructively with the parental conflict.

Talking to children about divorce is difficult. Many children find out their parents are getting a divorce from other children or adults which causes the children to distrust their parents.

A Few Tips

The following tips can help both the child and parents with the challenge and stress of these conversations:

  • Do not keep the divorce a secret or wait until the last minute.
  • Take time to tell your child together.
  • Keep things simple and straightforward.
  • Use age appropriate language.
  • Tell them the divorce is not their fault.
  • Admit that this will be sad and upsetting for everyone.
  • Reassure your child that you both still love them and will always be their parents. 
  • Do not discuss your spouse's faults or problems with your child.

Criticizing your partner can be very hurtful to your child. Remember your child is a part of both of you. In fact, it may be easy for your child to criticize the other parent, but don't join in because it still hurts them to hear criticism about the other parent.

It is important when talking to young children not to use the term "love" in this context: "I don't love your father/mother any more." Instead use the language "we are not getting along anymore, and it would be better if we lived in separate houses."

Leave the word "love" for how you will always love them (the child/children). Otherwise they will see that you did love the other parent and now you don't, which will cause them to wonder if you might not love them in the future too!

An open communication between you and your child is very important while going through divorce. Checking in with them to see how they are feeling will help the process progress smoothly.

Gail Brand

The UNL Learning Child Team

Gail Brand has been Extension Educator for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension for 20 years. She holds a B.S. Degree in Family and Consumer Science Education and a M.A. Degree in Housing and Human Development. Gail provides educational opportunities for individuals and families in the areas of early childhood, parenting and building relationships. She works with courses on-line that includes a Co-Parenting for Successful Kids course for 2000 parents yearly. Gail and Doug, her hu ...

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