Telling Kids About Divorce: What to Say and What Not to Say

Telling Kids About Divorce: What to Say and What Not to Say

October 19, 2022

By FairWell Family Law Mediation

When telling kids about divorce there are some things to say and others you want to avoid. Review this tip sheet on how to discuss this with your children.

Although divorce can feel like a very isolating situation, you aren’t alone if you’re going through it. 50% of first marriages in the United States end in divorce and the number of subsequent marriages that end is even higher.

Telling kids about divorce can be the hardest part. They’re often young and don’t want to think of their parents splitting up, worried about what it means for their family and their future.

Here’s what to do and what not to do when explaining the situation to your kids.

What You Should Do

These are the things you should do when divorcing with kids. Make sure to consider them when you break the news.

Be Honest

The first, and the most important, thing that you should do when divorcing with kids is, to be honest with them.

If you’re sure that the marriage is at an end, you shouldn’t pretend this is a temporary break to try and appease their upset in that moment. Studies have proven that lying to children can have adverse negative effects on their own personality, encouraging them to lie to others.

Remember, you are always setting an example for your children.

That doesn’t mean they need to know every detail of the divorce — only that you should tell them what’s necessary and avoid any white lies.

Pick a Good Time

Make sure you pick your time well. It’s a good idea to try and choose a time when you’ll be in private and composed, and have some time in place to answer any questions or talk them through things.

Have a Plan in Place

Before you tell your children about the divorce, try to have a plan in place. Explaining where each parent will be staying and how often they might get to see both of them can really help comfort a child who is now facing the unknown.

Have Both Parents Present, if Possible

Having both parents present is very helpful, as it shows a united front and sets a good example of the co-parenting to come.

Sometimes this isn’t possible (like in abusive situations), and if it’s a bad idea for both parents to be in the same room, then don’t force it — but if you’re parting as friends, it can really help to show your children that you’re both still there for them.

Let Them Grieve

Let your children grieve. To them, this is the end of their current life, and it’s okay if they need an adjustment period.

Some children will want lots of answers immediately and fire questions at you. Others will want to be alone in their room.

However your child chooses to think things over, you should let them.

What You Shouldn’t Do

Although it can be tempting, these are the things you shouldn’t do when trying to explain your divorce to kids. It will only make things harder in the long run.


It can be tempting to lie to your kids to shield them from the truth — but they’ll only find out the truth in the long run. Try to avoid even harmless little white lies, keeping your story straight.

If they ask questions that you feel you truly cannot answer, then explain to them that you can’t answer that at the moment but will try to find out for them (or find a way to explain something to them).

Badmouth a Parent

Divorce often comes with a lot of sour feelings, and that’s understandable — but, where possible, you should try to avoid badmouthing the other parent.

You don’t want to affect your child’s relationship with them. If the other parent is abusive or dangerous then by all means, shield your child from their care, but you should explain things as calmly and reasonably as possible. Cursing the other parent out will only come back on you.

Let Your Emotions Get the Best of You

Although divorce is a very strenuous time and you may be feeling upset, try your best to be composed when explaining the situation to your children. There are two reasons for this:

  • Your child is more likely to become very emotional if you do
  • You may not be able to explain things as clearly and tactfully as you’d like

While there’s nothing wrong with your child crying or letting out their emotions, try to keep outbursts to a minimum so you can get the situation across and let them digest everything that’s happening.

Bribe Them

Some parents will buy their kids shiny new things immediately before or after telling them about the divorce. This may be to distract them from the reality of what’s happening or to curry favor, so they prefer one parent to the other.

While it’s okay to buy them a new movie or video game after explaining the divorce to them, allowing them to take their mind off things, try not to bribe them in the moment. It’s much better that they actually digest the information and understand what’s happening before they focus on anything else.

Telling Kids About Divorce Doesn’t Have to be a Bad Experience

Telling kids about divorce can be stressful, but if you go in prepared, know what you’re going to say, and intend to be honest with them, then it doesn’t have to be a bad memory. Instead, it can feel cathartic to go through the story with them, let them know what’s going to happen, and allow them to process it in their own way.

Do you need help mediating a divorce? Contact us today and let’s see what we can do to make this the most painless experience possible.


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