How to explain divorce to your kids in a child-friendly way 

Deciding to separate or divorce is a difficult decision for any couple, but when children are involved, it becomes even more complex. Our clients tell us that having a conversation about separation and divorce with their children is one of the most challenging and stressful parts of the process. In this blog, we'll explore how to have these conversations with children of different ages, with a focus on promoting amicable relationships and ensuring the well-being of everyone in the family.

Some general guidelines

It is best to keep the conversation as simple as possible, and age-appropriate. It is good to provide enough information so that they know what is happening, for example, where they will live. Importantly they need to know that they will be taken care of. If it is possible, it is good to reassure your child that you and their other parent love them. We also recommend against giving the children too much detail – like who ended things, who was wronged, and so on. Ensure that your children know they are not at fault for the changes in their family.

Preschoolers (ages 3-5)

Preschoolers may not fully understand the concept of divorce, but they can sense changes in their environment, including. Keep explanations simple and concrete, focusing on feelings that they understand and how their daily routines will remain consistent. You can reassure them that the separation is not their fault. Use age-appropriate language and offer plenty of hugs and reassurance.

School-age children (ages 6-12)

School-age children have a better understanding of divorce but may struggle with being overwhelmed by emotions. Be real with them about the reasons for the separation without going into the subjective detail of who is responsible for what, using language they can understand. Encourage them to express their feelings and ask questions. Reassure them that they will still have a family, albeit in a different form.

Teenagers (ages 13-18):

Teenagers may have a more mature understanding of divorce but will still be deeply affected by the changes. Be open with them about the reasons for the separation, without going into detail of who is responsible for what, and also be sure to respect their privacy and autonomy. Encourage them to express their feelings and concerns and validate their emotions even if you disagree with them. Reassure them about parental involvement going forward and emphasise the importance of maintaining healthy relationships.

Promoting amicable relationships

Regardless of their age, children benefit from seeing their parents communicate respectfully and cooperate with each other. If possible, avoid speaking negatively about your ex-partner in front of your children, and encourage them to maintain a positive relationship with the other parents. Keep lines of communication open and encourage your children to express their feelings and concerns. Consider family therapy or counselling to help navigate the transition and promote healing for everyone involved.

Telling your children about your separation or divorce is never easy, but with patience, honesty, and sensitivity, you can help them navigate this challenging time. By tailoring your approach to their age and developmental stage and prioritising open communication and mutual respect, you can promote amicable relationships and the well-being of everyone in the family. Remember that while divorce may mark the end of your marriage, it doesn't have to mean the end of your family. With time, patience, and love, you can create a new family dynamic that fosters growth, healing, and resilience.

More resources

The website is an excellent resource for specific phrases that you can use when talking about the separation, tips on how to listen actively and how to encourage talking about feelings.

Crisis helplines 

DVCS (ACT only): 02 6280 0900

1800RESPECT: 1800 737 732

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Kids Helpline: 1800 551 880

Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636

Parentline ACT: 02 6287 3833