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Preparing Children for Parental Divorce

In recent times, increasing numbers of families go through separation and divorce and the effects on children may vary from mild emotional problems to severe psychological problems. Parents have a crucial role in getting their children through this trying time as best as possible.

Parents can help their children cope with their divorce by giving them stability at home and making sure the children’s physical and emotional needs are looked after and they are given reassurance. Thus parents should make sure they look after their own needs and try to work with their ex spouse as amicably as possible. Children will be able to go on with their lives if they feel that they are still loved by both parents

Parents themselves may feel unsure about the best way to help their children get through their divorce or separation. Parents need to prepare their children so they can get through this period successfully and help them to emerge from it feeling loved, confident and strong.

Letting children know about the divorce

Letting children know that the parents are getting divorced are one of the most difficult things parents will have to do, Parents should prepare what they are going to say and make sure they have planned for any questions their children may have

What to say and how to say it

  • Parents should acknowledge to their children that some things will be different and there will be changes in their lives. Let them know that together you can deal with each the changes as you go along.
  • Be honest and explain in a way that your children can understand
  • Try to tailor your explanations in an age appropriate way
  • Let your children know that you still love them
  • Talk about the changes that will happen e.g living arrangements but don’t overwhelm them with details

Avoid blaming your spouse

  • Show restraint. Be respectful of your spouse when giving the reasons for the separation.
  • Be honest to your children but try not to blame your spouse even though the parting may have been bitter.
  • Try to agree on an explanation for the divorce
  • Tell your children before changes in living arrangements occur and try to tell your children together if possible

Help your children express their feelings

  • Be supportive towards your children, allow them to express their emotions. They may feel sad or angry or feel a sense of loss
  • Listen to your childrens’ fears and encourage them to talk about what they are feeling and their worries
  • Try not to get angry if your children act out when they first hear about the divorce. It’s hard for children to express what they are going through and they may take it out on you initially
  • Reassure your children and assure them that you are willing to listen.

Helping to clear misunderstandings

  • Children may have misconceptions that they are the cause of the divorce because of their behaviour etc.
  • It is important to let them know the reason for the divorce so that they understand that they are not responsible
  • Children may appear to understand then later don’t seem to be able to accept the situation. Parents have to be patient and allow them to process it at their own pace

Helping children cope with divorce

  • Both parents should consistently be there for the children and reassure them that they are still loved
  • Physical forms of affection like hugs, pats on the back or physical closeness can make children feel supported
  • Acknowledge that the situation will be difficult initially but things will work out eventually
  • Provide stability for your children. Having regular routines at each parent’s house will make children feel more secure.
  • Don’t spoil your children by allowing them to break rules or indulging them unnecessarily during this time.
  • Avoid making your child as object tug of war between parent

Normal reactions to separation and divorce

These reactions can be considered normal for children especially in the early stages.

  • Anger. Kids may express their anger, and resentment to their parents for the changes in their life
  • Anxiety. Children may feel scared and fearful.
  • Mild depression. Children may become sad and depressed and may show some behaviour changes.

It will take some time for children to work through their feelings about the separation or divorce. However most children will be able to get through the situation

Red flags for more serious problems

If the children appear to be getting worse, it is important to get help. Warning signs include:

  • Sleep problems
  • Poor concentration
  • School problems
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Self-injury
  • Eating disorders
  • Frequent anger outbursts or tantrums
  • Withdrawal
  • Not interested in favourite activities
  • Behaviour Difficulties such as running away from home, engage in unhealthy activities

Discuss these or other divorce-related warning-signs with your child’s teachers, counsellors or a doctor and get help as soon as possible.


Last Reviewed : 5 Ogos 2013
Writer : Dr. Eni Rahaiza Bt. Muhd Ramli