Talking to Your Kids about Separation & Divorce
Tips from Our Lawyers at Moshtael Family Law
Adults are better equipped to deal with the difficult circumstances, the
complex emotions, the stress, and all the legal technicalities involved
in a separation. Children, on the other hand, do not understand the “how”
and “why” of divorce. It is essential to be open and honest
with your kids about your separation and break the news to them as gently
All children will react differently, depending on their age, level of maturity,
temperament, and personal relationship with their parents. While adults
grapple with the legal intricacies of separation like property issues,
custody or visitation schedules, children are more concerned with how the separation of their parents
is going to affect their daily life, both directly and indirectly.
Understanding and appreciating the emotional state, behavioral changes,
and reactions of children in various age groups can help parents provide
kids with a smoother transition into a new chapter in their lives.
No matter how old your kids are, they understand that there is a problem
in the family and that their household is not going to be the same again.
Younger kids tend to focus on worrying about who will take care of them
or where their pets will go.
Kids who are older and have a basic understanding of what it means when
their parents separate; stress about who they will live with, changing
schools, losing their friends or moving places.
Feeling sad, angry, worried, or withdrawn are common reactions that are
noticed in children of different ages. The most serious issue in circumstances
of divorce is that children feel they are somehow responsible for their
parents’ separation. These feelings of guilt can further cause emotional
trauma for children.
Babies & Toddlers
The youngest of children have no comprehension of what separation entails.
The primary concern for kids and parents is childcare as the kids are
completely dependent on their guardians.
Preschoolers do have a slight understanding of the parent-children bond.
Their concerns are self-centered so they might show signs of distress when
told the news. Their anxiety is expressed through clinginess, irritability,
fear, or whining. Kids may show signs of learning difficulties in school
or interrupted sleep.
6 to 8-Year-Old Children
These kids have a slightly better understanding of parents living together
or separately. They can think about others but still, primarily worry
about their own situation after the divorce.
9 to 11-Year-Old Kids
The former age group and children in this one, can in part, understand
the situation and express how they feel about it. It is easy for these
children to blame themselves for the divorce.
Learning issues, social withdrawal, or social dependence are possible outcomes
of the separation period for children. Some even try to bring their parents
together, failing which they feel even guiltier.
12 to 15-Year-Olds
Kids at this age are able to understand what divorce is and how it is going
to affect their lives. They are old enough to ask questions and take part
in family discussions. They require honest answers to their questions.
Teenagers seek independence and try to form bonds outside the house. If
parents don’t ensure the support that children need in this situation,
kids can suffer from anxiety, depression, abandonment issues, or get into
bad company. Teenagers can also manage to blame one or either parent for
the breakdown of their family.
Separation is a tough period for everyone and parents must understand that
children suffer the most due to their vulnerable and dependent nature.
It is thus essential that parents take the utmost care to ensure stability
in their kids’ lives, even if the two parents start living separately.
Parents must lookout for signs of distress, health issues, cognitive or
learning disabilities, social withdrawal, loss of appetite, or dependence
on outside support in children. Communication is crucial when dealing
They need to know clearly what changes their parents’ divorce is
going to bring in their daily life, right from the place of residence
and school to friends and co-curricular activities.
Parents need to be honest with children and explain to them that the separation
is a mutual, adult decision, and not caused by them. Kids crave parental
attention so when parents are dealing with their own emotions and stress,
they cannot allow their distress to project on to the kids in the form
of scolding or indifference.
Nurturing the Parent-Child Bond
Every child needs the love and support of both parents. During or after
parents’ separation, the child may feel that the bond with his/her
parents is withering. No matter what happens between the parents, the
children should feel loved and taken care of.
It is extremely important that parents not blame each other or teach children
negative things about the other parent. This must be communicated to other
family members also.
Even if you are separating for reasons such as infidelity, the kid must
not have a bad image or lose respect for his parents. This creates hostility
among kids towards one or either parent.
Arguments, fights, and discussions about the divorce must also not take
place in front of children.
Even if the divorce is not a mutual decision, parents can sit together
and decide what they will tell their children and how they can ensure
that their child’s life will be least affected by their actions.
Continuing that Special Bond
When children hear that their parents are not fighting but are on amicable
terms with each other, it is easier for them to accept that although they
will be living under different roofs, they will still give them the same
love and attention that they received earlier.
Be it in their daily routine or the bond with parents, children need more
regularity and consistency. Being patient and cordial with your children
about your impending divorce is the first step you can take when you choose
to part ways with your spouse.
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