Getting Children Talking to Their Parents About Divorce

A mom comforts her children as they walk through the park.

Divorce is a difficult topic of conversation for parents and children alike.  Pretty much every child in a divorced family situation does not want to hear their parents talking about it, much less talk about it with their parents.  Though it may feel tough to talk about emotions at times, keeping feelings bottled up can have harmful consequences. While every family situation is different, consider the following as you begin talking to your children about divorce:

Encourage your children to be honest about their feelings.

It’s not always easy for children to express their feelings about certain things.  They may be shy or even nervous when talking to their parents about what emotions the divorce is causing them to feel.  When they do begin talking to you, be an attentive listener.  Allow your children to speak about their feelings without inhibitions or fear of being judged by their parents.  Even if something they say takes you by surprise, try and keep calm and remain positive. It is important that you remain supportive of your children throughout this difficult time.

Be honest with your children.

When talking to their parents about divorce, children may start to ask questions that their parents may or may not want to answer.  Keep your responses simple and truthful, but choose your responses carefully.  Don’t use this as an opportunity to bash your ex-spouse in front of your children, as this may discourage them from being open with you in the future.  Children want to be talking freely and asking questions to each of their parents, so give them assurance that it is okay to do so.

Ask your children the right kinds of questions.

Don’t overwhelm your children with questions if they don’t feel like talking about it right away.  If you notice that your children are having a difficulty talking about it, observe them and try bringing it up at a time that you think they’re ready to talk.  Let their responses come as they do, and don’t get too discouraged if they don’t have much to say right away.  If talking about the situation is making them visibly uncomfortable, try lightening their mood by changing the subject to something else that you know they enjoy talking about, like a favourite pass time or about friends.  You can come back to what you were talking about before another time.

Once you begin living in separate homes, it may be tempting to start asking your children questions about your ex-spouse.  Asking questions like this isn’t fair to your children, as it may make them feel uncomfortable.   Children like talking to their parents about the things that make them happy, and they should be encouraged to enjoy their time with each of their parents.  In talking to your children and asking questions which involve their other parent, keep it as positive as possible.  If they have just spent a weekend with their other parent, ask them about what sorts of fun things they all did together.  If your children tell you that they had a great time and are happy about it, let them know that this also makes you happy. 

Remind your children how much you love them. 

The most important thing you can remind your children during this time of transition is that their parents still love them.  A simple “I love you” has a great impact on your children each time you say it, so it’s nothing to be taken lightly.  Remember to say it often.

To get children talking to their parents about divorce and how it’s making them feel may seem impossible at first, but it typically will become easier with time.   Keep in mind that if your children have a hard time talking to you or their other parent about it, they may feel more comfortable opening up to someone other than their parents.  Their school counselor or a family therapist may be the right person to help your children to start talking about it.  Doing so may offer you more insight into just how your children are feeling.  In time, it may also open them up to begin talking about it with both of their parents.