6 Strategies For Telling Your Kids About Your Separation

October 8, 2020

During your separation, one of your main concerns is going to be around the impact it will have on your children. It’s the primary worry that keeps many of our clients up at night.  And understandably so — separation is a huge change for the whole family.

That’s why it’s important to us that we give you the tools you need to support your children through this transition.

How you handle telling your kids about your separation or divorce will vary depending on the specific ages of your children. Keeping that in mind, here are the six key strategies we recommend when having an initial conversation with your children. 

1. Tell them as a team

It’s a good idea for both parents to make every effort possible to have “the” conversation with their children together. 

From the very start of your separation process, it’s important for your kids to feel loved and supported by both of their parents. They need to know that while you and your Ex will no longer be together, you will still be their parents and will always be their “people”.

However, we understand there are times where this just isn’t a possibility. If this is the case, then the parent having the conversation with the kids should take care to reassure the children that both parents want the best for them and will continue to love and support them.

2. Be open and honest

If you’re having the conversation together, it’s important to be on the same page to start with. How are you going to tell your children you’re separating? 

This discussion should fit your child’s age, maturity and personality. The language used should be something that your child will understand.  

Most importantly, be open and clear with your children about the separation and what this will mean for them, you and your Ex. In saying this, you don’t need to tell your children all of the details of the relationship and what has led to the separation.

But it is important for your children to understand what is going on and the practical implications of the separation for them. How you navigate the separation process will have a tremendous impact on who your children are and the relationships they form in their own lives. 

So, they’ll need to know the truth from their parents from the get-go. Having this knowledge will assist them with transition, help them adjust to the changes and accept their new reality. 

To get started, you may want to sit your children down together and tell them you have made the decision to separate. If there’s been conflict or tension, then you may want to reference this in your discussion and say that you don’t want to continue, because although you still love each other, as you have children together, you feel that you can be your best selves by living apart. 

You may want to remind your children that it doesn’t mean you’re not a family anymore. This is a big concern for kids — so, you may want to talk to them about how you’ll still be a family; it’s just that the family is going to look a little bit different. 

Remember to highlight that both parents are still going to be an important part of their lives. Each parent living separately doesn’t change or stop them loving their children.

3. Tell them it’s not their fault

Because children are ego-centric, they will at some point question whether or not your separation is their fault. Be clear and explicit to communicate to your children that the breakdown of the relationship is not your child’s fault. 

You may need to keep repeating this to your children as they process the separation. And that’s completely fine. You can explain to your children that the decision to separate is made by adults and that children are never the cause for divorce.  

Depending on the age and maturity of your children, you can explain that adults in relationships need or want certain things from the other person and when this does not happen, the adults become unhappy or argue and this does not create happiness or contentment. 

When this happens, the adults decide they can’t continue the relationship or live together any longer; that’s what leads to the decision to separate. 

Remember, keep blame out of the equation. Even though you may really want the kids to know exactly what led to where you are, this is not going to serve them and in the long-run, it won’t serve you

4. Keep your emotions in check 

Making the decision to separate means you’re going to be feeling emotionally heightened — that’s totally normal. However, when you’re discussing this with your children, you want to keep the focus on them and make sure your emotions are in check. 

The foundations you lay in this conversation with your children will have a lasting impact on how they navigate the separation process, too. Avoid laying blame or showing anger or hatred towards the other parent —even if you feel this is justified. 

If your children can see their parents treating each other with respect, particularly in such a difficult moment, then this will help reduce their fears about what’s going to happen.  Anger and hatred can cause a divide, making children feel like they have to choose a side — which can add unnecessary stress and lasting resentment. 

5. Answer their questions

Be prepared for some of the questions your children may ask. Kids are curious at the best of times and during your separation they’ll have lots of questions. It might take them a moment to process the situation, but just know, you’ll be dealing with a lot of FAQs moving ahead. 

During these conversations, invite your children to ask any questions they have or let them know the lines of communication are open so they can ask any questions at any time.

The questions your kids ask you will shed light on the things they’ve been thinking about, so they should never be ignored and should always be addressed head on. Here are few examples of questions, or versions of them, to be prepared for:

  • Who will they live with?
  • Will they have to move?
  • Where will they go to sleep?
  • Which parent is moving out?
  • What will change for them day to day?
  • Where will they spend their holidays? 
  • Will they still get to see their friends? 
  • Will they still get to see their grandparents or cousins?
  • Can they still do their activities?
  • Can they still go to their school?

Try to answer their questions truthfully and in an age-appropriate way.  

Remember, your children don’t need to know all the details of what happened in the relationship or why you’re separating. It’s enough for them to understand that the separation means that their daily routine is going to change.

You may not have all of the answers to these questions. And if you don’t, that’s okay. Tell your children you don’t know that right now, but you’re working to figure it out and will let them know when you can. 

You can reiterate that this conversation will be ongoing and you can encourage your children to reach out to either parent at any time.

6. Respond to your children’s emotions

Your kids need to know that their feelings are important to you, so they feel seen and heard. 

During “the” conversation and over the following months, your children may display big feelings and sometimes, this can result in behaviour changes. In these moments, you can reassure your children that big feelings are okay and ask them to talk about how they’re feeling. 

Listening to your children and not reacting negatively to their big feelings or big behaviours provides validation. This continues to engender trust, connection and stability with your child. 

Be mindful that your children are going to go through a grieving process. They’re trying to process their family dynamic changing, in the same way you and your Ex are trying to work out what your new normal will look and feel like. 

If your children are showing any signs of really not coping, you may need to engage some additional support from a counsellor or the guidance counsellor at your child’s school. A professional can help them process the separation and the changes happening in their family and life. 

This will be one of the toughest conversations you will have as a parent. However, if you can navigate this conversation by minimising the conflict and negativity of the separation process and can demonstrate respect and kindness to the other parent, then this will set the tone for the journey ahead.

It’s so important for children to feel free to love both of their parents and not to feel divided between them.  This can be incredibly unsettling and cause children to feel responsible for how the adults in their life think, feel and react.  

This is going to be a big life transition for you and for your children. If you need guidance to have this conversation or how to support your children as you move forward, we recommend seeking out help and researching more tools to pop in your toolbox, as you navigate your separation together. 

For help creating an interim parenting arrangement for your children in the days, weeks and months after separation, contact us to book your free clarity call to discuss your situation and a pathway forward for you and your family.



This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or any other professional advice.

Feeling unsure where to start?

Let us guide you through what’s involved in untangling your relationship and give you the tools to set yourself up to move forward.

Feeling unsure where to start?

Let us guide you through what’s involved in untangling your relationship and give you the tools to set yourself up to move forward.

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