Basic Do’s and Don’ts When Talking to Kids About Divorce

by | Jul 3, 2024

In any divorce involving children, talking to them about the situation is one of the hardest things you’ll do. Some thoughtful planning will help reduce their anxiety and yours and will help you stay focused on the kids during this tough conversation.

Start by acknowledging how your own emotions are impacting the situation. You are likely sad and upset to be having this discussion. No one went into marriage expecting to be talking to the kids about divorce, so it’s totally understandable to feel that way!

You may be angry, sad, grieving, devastated, heartbroken, stunned, relieved, or any number of other emotions. But you are also still a parent – and your kids are looking to you for guidance, reassurance, and support. You can give them that!

Remember: studies (like this one from Scientific American) consistently show that it’s not divorce itself that scars kids, it’s how parents handle divorce.

What does that mean for you? Opportunity. As the study notes, it’s  witnessing conflict between parents that causes stress and damage. Reducing exposure to that conflict will significantly improve your child’s ability to cope with this change.

Where to Start

One of the most important things you can do before talking with your kids – regardless of their age – is to make this conversation about them, not you. Consider these factors when you’re choosing how to talk with them:

  • Age
  • Emotional state
  • Timing
  • Availability of your / your child’s support system

Important Do’s

Advance planning:

  • Plan for a productive conversation (time, place and duration)
  • Coordinate with your spouse/ex
    • Agree with your spouse on messaging and if possible, talk to the kids together. If that won’t work, agree on your messages.
    • Prepare so you are clear about what you will and won’t share.
  • Think about who the kids can count on for support (friends, family, coaches, teachers, etc.) and be prepared to help them engage that support.
  • Adjust content and follow-up to match their age. This may mean more than one conversation if you have kids of different ages.
  • Be prepared with age-appropriate books / other resources you can share or make available


  • Reassure them that they are loved and supported by you both.
  • Reassure them that this is not their fault.
  • Listen fully. Be open to new perspectives.
  • Model the kind of dialogue and coping skills you want them to develop.
  • Be vulnerable and honest. “I am sad and having a hard time, but I’ll also be ok.” It gives them permission to do the same.
  • Ask questions about how they feel and what confuses them. Answer honestly, clearly, and appropriately for their age (without oversharing – see don’ts below).
  • Give them permission to ask anything. Bring up the hard conversations.
  • Ask what they need. The answers may surprise you. For example, do they want to tell friends, or do they want you to do it? How do they want to do that?
  • Acknowledge that they will likely experience many different emotions at the same time, just like you are.

Important Don’ts

  • Never overshare, even when kids are older, and you feel they “should know” the other parent’s true character.
    • This is so important. Likely you will only succeed in making your kids feel insecure and defensive of the other parent, who they love as well. Everyone – kids and both parents – will gain so much more when they have a healthy relationship with both of you.
  • Ask or expect them to comfort you. Set the tone early that you are going to be OK and you will help them to do the same.
  • Blame or badmouth the other parent. I can’t repeat this often enough. If your ex deserves to be blamed or badmouthed, the kids will eventually figure it out themselves.
  • Take it personally. Kids react in all kinds of ways and often act out where they feel safest. Try reframing to be glad they feel safe enough with you to show their true emotions.
  • Assume all is fine if they aren’t talking about it. Keep asking.
  • Pretend you might get back together.

After the talk

  • Talk about your ex the way you hope they will talk about you.
  • Reassure them that they are loved and supported by you both.
  • Reassure them that this is not their fault.
  • Support a healthy relationship with your child’s other parent. This starts with the initial conversation and will continue to benefit you many times over.
  • Remind them that you’re there to listen. Be open to whatever they share or ask.
  • Continue to check in and offer space for them to share thoughts and feelings. This isn’t a one and done conversation.
  • Keep the relationship with your ex and your kids separate, i.e. don’t be angry with them for wanting to spend time with the other parent.

Everyone’s situation is unique, and you know your child best! I hope you’ll use these suggestions to build a plan that meets your family’s needs. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, or stressed about implementing these ideas, please reach out. I’d be happy to talk with you.

Finally, I’ve compiled some resources on this important topic, including a podcast I recommend and a couple of books, in the Resources section of this week’s newsletter.