How to Tell Your Child You're Getting a Divorce

Sad girl talking to her mother at home

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Deciding to get divorced is typically a difficult, emotionally raw experience. It tends to get even more heart-wrenching when children are involved. Often, the prospect of letting the kids know that the divorce is happening can be especially challenging. Many parents struggle with how and when to tell their kids that they are getting a divorce.

Telling your child that their family is breaking up can feel doubly hard—you’re likely struggling with your own feelings of regret, failure, uncertainty, relief, or sadness while also coping with inflicting this wound on your child. But while there is no one perfect way to share this likely devastating news, some approaches are better than others, says Kelly Krawczynski MA, MFT, a marriage and family therapist in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

Research shows that sharing this sad news in a straightforward, loving, child-centered manner can help to ease the blow—and help the child along in the process of coping with the divorce, says Krawczynski. Learn more about the best way to let your child know you’re getting a divorce.

Strategies for Telling Your Child About Your Divorce

Telling your child that you are divorcing is not easy. It can feel like failing them—or worse. When my partner and I told our kids we were getting divorced, it felt like stabbing them in the heart. It's a moment in time that I'll never forget.

There’s no getting around the fact that the news is going to be painful, for all people involved. However, while it's likely to be a difficult and emotionally wrought conversation, there are a variety of strategies that can make the conversation a bit easier for all involved.

Plan What to Say

Spend some time thinking about exactly what you want to say, particularly how you'll explain to your kids why divorce is happening and what it means for them. You'll also want to consider how you'll react to however they respond. They may become quite upset so you'll want to be ready to handle their reactions.

"Talk ahead of time with your partner about what you will say about the divorce and how you'll respond to as many of the details as you can," says David L. Hill, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

You'll be more likely to share the news in a more straightforward, confident manner if you have talking points prepared. This is particularly important as your emotions are likely to be running high. Being well-prepared can help you avoid getting flustered, overwhelmed, or reactive.

Decide When and Where to Tell Them

You want to set a time and place for this conversation when everyone is most likely to be calm and collected, says Krawczynski. Pick a time when you and your children will be unhurried and able to focus on what you're saying. Make sure little kids aren't hungry, overtired, overstimulated, or in need of the bathroom. "Ideally, you [want to have the conversation] in the child’s home," says Dr. Hill, as this is where your child is more likely to feel comfortable and safe.

Share the News Together

It's helpful for both parents to sit down and share this news together, says Krawczynski. Presenting a united front can be reassuring to the child and ensures that they receive one set of information about the divorce rather than hearing conflicting viewpoints.

If there is a lot of tension between the parents, you may want to sit down with a therapist before letting your child know to determine how to best have the conversation, suggests Dr. Hill.

Ideally, the more you can discuss and agree on together ahead of time, the better. However, there are situations where that can’t happen, such as mental illness, abuse, or other issues that make it impractical or not safe to have both parents in the same room for this conversation. If that is your situation, do your best to inform your child of what is happening in as straightforward a manner as possible.

Make It Age-Appropriate

Kids will process the news differently at every age, so you'll need to modify your conversation based on your child's developmental abilities. You know your child best, so be sure to tailor what you say to their needs and level of understanding, says Dr. Hill.

The younger the child, the less concept of marriage and divorce they have, says Krawczynski, so the simpler your language needs to be. "How you guide them through what these words mean can have a major impact on their development," she continues.

Focus on basics, such as if one parent is moving out, what will happen with your pets, and when the child will spend time with each parent. Keep it short, while letting the child know they can ask any questions they have.

"The older the child is, the more direct you can be," says Krawczynski. Older elementary-age kids can understand more since logical thinking starts between ages 8 and 10, Dr. Hill explains. Tweens and teens will be able to process what the divorce means to their lives more acutely and may have more questions, Dr. Hill continues. Your conversation may be more open and detailed.

However, even as you might give more information and your child may ask more complex or personal questions, be sure to avoid placing blame on one parent. You don't want the child to feel like they have to choose sides, says Krawczynski.

Parents are used to talking to their children at an age-appropriate level and this conversation is no different. "Knowing how sensitive your kids are, you can change the tone of the conversation to fit their emotional needs," says Krawczynski.

Listen to Your Kids

Once you've said what you need to say, turn over the conversation to your child. Be prepared to listen and support your kid in whatever way they need. "Allow for an open discussion where the child can freely express their feelings (including crying if necessary) and they can ask any questions they have," says Dr. Hill.

Common Questions Kids Ask About Divorce

Every kid will react differently to hearing the news that their parents are getting divorced. However, there are some common questions many kids will have, which they may ask directly or just be thinking about. Aim to address these issues whether or not your child brings them up, says Dr. Hill.


It's common for kids to want to know why divorce is happening. Often they will want to know why the parents can just stay together. They may even plead with you to do so. It can be helpful to discuss your explanation with your partner ahead of time so that you are ready with a consistent answer.

"It's really important to not use this as an opportunity to explain that you’re the better parent or that it’s the other parent's fault—it's never a good time for that," says Dr. Hill.

Avoid blaming each other or telling your child about any potentially upsetting causes, such as financial issues, emotional abuse, or infidelity. "The child needs to have faith and trust in both parents. It can be incredibly hard not to vent and you may be incredibly upset, but the child does not need to know that," says Dr. Hill.

Is It My Fault?

Kids often worry that they are to blame when their parents get divorced, says Dr. Hill. Even if you tell them that it's not their fault, it's common for them to suspect that they are the reason why it's happening. Do your best to explicitly let them know that they didn't cause the divorce.

Do You Still Love Me?

When couples divorce, it's natural for their children to wonder if their parents will stop loving them, too, says Dr. Hill. In their minds, you and your partner stopped loving each other, so how can they be sure you won't stop loving them? Reassure your kids that you will always love them and that can never change.

"Reiterate you your child that they are loved and this is not their fault," says Dr. Hill. "Kids will inevitably feel it’s their fault, they’ve done something wrong to cause it, or that they can undo it."

What Does This Mean for Me?

Children will likely want to know how the divorce is going to impact them. They'll wonder if they'll need to move, what the custody arrangement will be, and how their things will be divided among two homes. They also may wonder how the divorce will change holidays, vacations, other special occasions, and anything else in their life that's important to them.

Do your best to explain how the divorce will alter their lives, suggests Dr. Hill. If some issues haven't yet been worked out, such as how much time they'll spend with each parent, let them know that you are working on a plan and will let them know as soon as you have it finalized. With older kids, you can also ask them what their thoughts and preferences are on these issues.

"Be ready to answer any questions you can, but it's ok to say 'I don’t know yet, but we’re going to work it out together,'" says Dr. Hill.

Who Knows?

In addition to being sad and upsetting, this news may feel very private or embarrassing to kids, says Dr. Hill. They may be concerned about who already knows you're getting divorced, or how this news will be shared with the people they know. They may worry that it will be their job to tell people about it.

You can help alleviate your child's concerns by sharing your plan for telling others about the divorce, says Dr. Hill. Often, kids won't want to be the ones to tell other people, but you can check in with them to find out if they prefer to tell their friends, teachers, and other important people in their lives or if they'd like you to do it.

How to Support Your Child During Divorce

Learning that your parents are splitting up is traumatic news for most kids. There is no getting around that, says Dr. Hill. Divorce brings big ramifications on your children's lives, such as possibly transitioning to living in two homes and not seeing both parents each day. They will also need to mourn the loss of living in an intact nuclear family.

Be sensitive to the fact that this will be a big adjustment for your child, which very likely will be complicated and emotionally painful for them. Welcome them to talk about their feelings. Give them compassion, attention, and space as they work through their emotions and cope with this life change. Often, therapy can be very helpful, as well. "I always recommend counseling for kids going through a divorce in their family," says Dr. Hill.

A Word From Verywell

Letting your child know that you are getting divorced is not easy—and no matter how you do it, your child is likely to be very sad about the news. However, there are several effective approaches to telling them that may help them cope more effectively. Honoring their feelings and offering your support and care are good places to start. Then, the healing and rebuilding of your family life can begin.

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Lee CM, Bax KA. Children’s reactions to parental separation and divorcePaediatr Child Health. 2000;5(4):217-218. doi:10.1093/pch/5.4.217.

  2. American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. Children and divorce.

  3. American Academy of Pediatrics. Helping families and children deal with divorce and separation.

  4. American Academy of Pediatrics. Improving family communications.

By Sarah Vanbuskirk
Sarah Vanbuskirk is a writer and editor with 20 years of experience covering parenting, health, wellness, lifestyle, and family-related topics. Her work has been published in numerous magazines, newspapers, and websites, including Activity Connection, Glamour, PDX Parent, Self, TripSavvy, Marie Claire, and TimeOut NY.