How do I behave with my child in a divorce?

by Anna Kazakova
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When two happy people start a family, they hardly think that it may not be forever. But families break up, and unfortunately, it happens quite often. While for spouses the decision to divorce becomes a balanced decision of two adults (although for many adults it is also a great stress and ordeal), children always suffer from this situation. 

Divorce frightens them as the usual family security is gone. Children no longer feel safe and comfortable they feel that something bad is happening, they feel changes that cause anxiety. 

So how do you tell your child about an impending divorce to protect him from psychological trauma?

Secrecy and vague explanations only make the situation worse - clear words are better, according to psychologists: Children need to know that they are not to blame for the breakup. Children need to know that the mother and father remain their parents, even if the marriage has broken up and the parents no longer live together.

Children react differently to parental separation. Boys often react harshly and aggressively, while girls often shut themselves away. In addition, the age of the child is an important factor. 

There is no universal way to tell a child about a divorce. It is always necessary to take into account the age, maturity, and peculiarities of the child's psyche and character in order to choose the right words. Nevertheless, there are a few general recommendations that will help smooth out the rough edges in this difficult situation.


How to say:

With very young children up to about 2.5-3 years old in the current situation, either you don't need to explain anything at all, or you need to give them a minimum of information.

Babies and toddlers are still far from understanding what the separation and divorce of their parents mean. Nevertheless, they still sense negative changes and can react to them. 

Possible negative consequences:

In children who are not yet able to express their feelings in words, the fear of being abandoned often leads to regression in development: problems with toilet training may appear (even if they were not there before), children become more whiny, anxious and sometimes aggressive.  

What parents can do:

Many children feel a great need for their parents to be near them, they want to feel constant bodily contact with them. Often they return to their parents' bed, even if they have been sleeping separately for a long time. It is important to give them this closeness if possible and to give them as much time as possible.

Preschool age

How to say:

From about the age of 4, the child should be told that the parents are getting divorced. It is important to make sure that you adapt your language and the content of the conversation to the maturity of your child. The child does not have to know everything, and the reasons for the separation do not necessarily have to be mentioned. Nothing needs to be explained about the predominant legal consequences of divorce either. Much more important is the perspective you show. This should take away the child's fears and worries.

You can explain to your child together that even though you no longer love each other, this does not change the fact that you love your baby, and you will both continue to make sure that he is okay. 

Possible negative consequences:

At this age, children mostly have a hard time with their parents' divorce. And often unconsciously they assume guilt and responsibility for their separation. This age is characterized by children's awareness of themselves as the center of the world. They believe that they can influence whether their parents will be reunited again if they behave differently than before. For example, it is often possible to hear from them such statements as, "If I always clean my room, then mommy won't have to fight anymore, then daddy can come back. Children show super conformist behavior in an attempt to reunite their parents.

Because they are constantly stressed, they easily develop psychosomatic disorders: abdominal pain, nighttime urinary incontinence, finger sucking, sleep disorders. Also children of kindergarten age are very afraid that the other parent might leave them too.

What parents can do:

Just like toddlers, preschoolers need a lot of time and attention to make them feel emotionally safe. They don't want to be alone. Parents must create situations of emotional intimacy over and over again, such as cuddling on the couch. On these occasions, children can express individual thoughts and questions that come to their mind about the new family situation. Parents can also use picture books with this theme to talk about the separation.

Parents should reassure children by saying that they would like to live with the child even after the separation, but for two apartments. It is important that parents consistently keep their promises so that children become more confident that both parents will stay with them. Children need to feel that they are allowed to be who they are and that adults take responsibility for the family situation.

Elementary school children

How to say:

With older children you should also talk about the divorce and explain to the child what it means. At what age this should be done depends on the individual child. Many five- and seven-year-olds today are familiar with the term "divorce," but do not necessarily know what it means in everyday family life.

Reassure him that the new life situation will not change the fact that you will both remain mom and dad and that you both love your child. Younger school-age children are already very independent in some areas. Allow your child to always be able to call the parent they don't live with. 

Possible negative consequences:

In junior high school children are even more dependent on their feelings. They feel sadness, helplessness, anger - shame also plays a big role. They feel that they have failed and are afraid to admit it to their classmates or neighbors.

Some children suffer from depressive moods. This often leads to difficulties in school. 

What parents can do:

Clearly structured daily life helps younger students navigate. Children of this age want to know exactly what will happen, when, and how. This way they can be sure when they will see which parent, and it gives them confidence in the new family situation. . Visualization on the calendar provides additional support. Parents should make exactly as many promises as they can actually keep. 

Under no circumstances should parents speak ill of each other-children love both parents, and otherwise feel resentful and have strong conflicts of loyalty.


How to say:

The older the children get, the better they usually cope with divorce. Even as teenagers, children do not necessarily have to be involved in all the details. In general, it is important for all children, but especially teenagers, to know: Both parents remain respectful people and equal caregivers. 

Unlike younger children, you can involve your teenager in planning for the future.

Possible negative consequences:

Children over the age of ten are usually very anxious: about their own situation as well as that of their parents. They quickly take the side of the supposedly weaker parent. 

In the family, they often take on tasks that are not really within their power, which overburden them. As a result, they often lose touch with their own friends, although peers are especially important to them at this age. The conflict of loyalties between both parents and family and friends means that they often overreact and exhibit contradictory behavior: on the one hand, they are very mature and take responsibility, but on the other hand, they are impulsive and sometimes completely withdrawn.

What parents can do:

Parents especially help children of this age when they give them feedback. Young people also get strength from their peers - so parents should support belonging to these groups. Whoever portrays the other parent as "weak" or "strong," "good" or "bad," throws children into a conflict of loyalties. So neutrality is mandatory - even if it is difficult.

It's important for children to get over the fact that their parents are sad, too. 


No divorce is easy, and every child is sad when parents announce that their paths are parting. The whole family structure and daily life changes. It will take some time for all family members to adjust to the new situation.

If you have talked to your child about the divorce, both of you observe them to see how they are coping with the changed family structure. 

The more you show your child that you, as parents, are still a team, the better the child will understand that he has nothing to lose, and therefore will be better able to handle the situation. 

But if you see the situation getting out of control and you can't handle your emotions or your child is experiencing psychological difficulties, don't push it to the limit and seek professional help. 

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