Resources / For families

Big Changes & Big Feelings: Divorce

concerned parent talking to worried child about divorce
Dominica Fox-DeMarco, MA, NBC-HWC
Dominica Fox-DeMarco, MA, NBC-HWC

Feb 16, 2024

Divorce is one of the hardest things a family may go through, especially when it’s time to to tell your children. There are ways to soften the delivery and ease the overall process. In our latest installment of our Big Changes & Big Feelings series, we’re covering divorce - how it affects our kids, what we can expect and how to navigate the conversations.

The divorce conversation

It may seem there’s never a right time to tell your kid(s) you’re getting divorced, it’s understandably a difficult conversation to navigate. Once you and your spouse are absolutely crystal clear on your separation and/or divorce the following tips will help guide the discussion:

  • Be sure to tell your kid(s) before anyone you tell in your family or close circle. If the news came to them before you were able to share, that may make it a harder conversation to navigate. 

  • Approach the conversation with a relaxing, calm, and empathetic tone. It’s important before starting the conversation to be on the same page about what you will and won’t share.

  • Be respectful of each other in the conversation and avoid blaming the other person.

  • Start the conversation during a calm period in the day. 

  • Allow all children to be present for the conversation so no one feels left out, and you can ensure word doesn’t travel to another sibling.

  • Keep it age and developmentally appropriate. Leave out the details of why you’re getting divorced/separated. Sharing with your child that a betrayal or affair happened may elicit a strong emotional response in yourself or the child. Offering reassurance that still all love and respect each other will also help them understand it’s not their problem to fix.

  • Allow all feelings to be present for your child without trying to change the reaction of your child. Even for yourself- while you want to remain respectful in your communication to your spouse, if you find yourself teary eyed, it’s okay to show them your kid you’re human. This type of modeling will help them feel safer in expressing themselves and coming to you when they’re distressed. 

  • Allow questions and keep any open door for them to come to you whenever they want to talk.

  • With all of this in mind, the only reason for having the conversation together, would be if it’s not physically or emotionally safe with the other parent.

  • Expect them to ask questions like “Do you still love me?” “How will our life be different?” “What will others think?” or “Is this my fault?”

The feelings

Every kid is different, and responses will differ by age and maturity, but expect children to experience the following feelings after finding out their parents are divorcing:

  • Confusion, grief, disappointment, embarrassment, relief, anger, sadness, indifference - some may need time to process the news.

  • For the future it’s important to keep a positive co-parenting relationship. If things are tumultuous between parents or you speak negatively about one another, this can delay your child's ability to heal and accept the circumstances.

The steps

One of the elements that breeds confusion and anxiety is how their lives will look going forward. The name of the game here is communication. Have as many of your ducks in a row as possible when you tell your children, so you’ll be able to answer their questions.

  • Make your child aware of next steps you’ve agreed upon such as where they’ll be living, time spent with each parent, or if they’re changing schools. If you aren’t aware of those next steps, be transparent and state “We don’t know now, but once we do we will make you aware.”

  • Ensuring with the child that even though you’re divorcing, you still respect the other parent. This will help the child see you can work together as a family unit, and will help normalize the divorce process.

The bubble

We can control the narrative in our home, but eventually word will get out to those outside of our bubble. People are going to find out about the divorce. How do we help/guide our children in telling their friends, teachers and other circles?

  • Encourage the child to only share what they feel comfortable with if anyone asks or makes a comment.

  • Practice role playing potential scenarios that may come up, and how they’d like to effectively respond to others.

  • If the child doesn’t want to talk about it with others, respect their wishes and share this with others.

The transition

No matter how much you prepare for this, it’s going to be hard and big feelings will be felt. It can take time for things to feel OK again. In the meantime, the following tips can ease the transition for you and your family.

  • Allow all emotions to be present. While you want to remain positive for them- try to make space for the range of emotions they may be feeling. When you allow all emotions to be present this helps the child learn to accept their emotions and move through them more easily.

  • Keep a similar routine at home, at school, and with activities. Continue to provide stability and the comfort that brings to them.

  • Continue to check in with them and keep an open line of communication. Some questions to ask your child are:

    • How has your life changed since the divorce?

    • Why do you think people get married?

    • Why do you think people get divorced?

    • Who do you talk with about the divorce?

    • What do you worry about?

    • If you could change anything about your life, what would you make different?


  • Do assure your child you still love them no matter what. Reassure your child it’s not their fault.

  • Don’t put your children in the middle or speak negatively about the other parent. Avoid placing blame on the other parent or having your child pass along messages to the other parent.

  • Do let them be honest about their emotions. Even if they place blame on one parent- continue to validate those feelings.

  • Do communicate to your co-parent with effective communication. Try to work as a team, and keep the same rules and discipline to provide stability for your child.

  • Don’t start the conversation before bed, or going out the door for school.

  • Do continue to check in with your child throughout and after the divorce/separation process. Consider establishing a weekly family check-in on how everyone’s doing. 

  • Don’t assume the child can bounce back quickly. Every child processes emotions at a different pace.

  • Do instill hope in your child and trust that with the right emotional support throughout this difficult process, children are resilient. 

Brightline is here to help you navigate this change. If you think your child may benefit from talking to a coach or therapist, please visit our site to learn more about virtual mental health care for children and teens. Sign up today.