Parents can feel confused, guilty, and at a loss as to how to explain to their children why they are getting a divorce. Issues such as infidelity and domestic abuse can feel impossible to explain without disparaging one of the parents. However, if parents decide to divorce because they have fallen out of love, it can also be difficult to explain why that is justification for a divorce (in their children’s eyes).

When any significant negative event happens to someone, it is human nature to want to know why – especially for children trying to make sense of their family breaking apart. Without discussion, children may blame themselves or be angry at their parents for causing them this pain with no reason.

Below are tips to help your children process and heal from divorce:

  1. Empathize. Before approaching your child, take time to be in an understanding place of what your child may be feeling. If your parent’s divorced, then you can remember how it felt and what you wanted to know, did not want to know, or anything someone said that was helpful. If you did not experience this, talk to friends or relatives that have experienced it to gain perspective from a child’s eyes.
  2. Why is this happening? The ‘why’ question becomes prominent with children because they want to know why this is happening and why there is no possibility for it to be avoided. When children are not given any explanation, they frequently blame themselves because developmentally they have limited view of the adult world and adult problems. Children may feel they caused their parent stress through misbehavior or by just the stress of being parents. Allow your child to express their thoughts even if they do not make sense until they feel heard and then you can respond.
  3. False hope. It is normal for children to hope or have fantasies about their parents reuniting. This is a part of the grief process.
  4. Parental guilt. One parent may feel angry that their child is having to go through this pain when it is perceived it was not that parent’s fault. For children, it does not matter. This is about grief and they do not want to be brought into the battle and choose sides. It is important that a child has a place to lean on and express their anger and sadness without their parent’s guilt or anger being expressed. Additionally there are groups such as DivorceCare for Kids. It can be very therapeutic for children to meet other children going through the same process.
  5. Counseling. It may be useful or necessary to seek help. Primarily if a child is showing signs of distress at school or at home. If your child’s grades start to drop or they become withdrawn – finding a counselor who works with families and children can be very beneficial. Your child can have a place to express themselves through play or through talking to a person who is not a family member. Children may want to come alone or with their siblings. Counselors can provide support for parents as well through teaching parenting skills specific to the situation.

Remember, children are people too. They have reactions to events in life just as adults and they are much more observant than parents realize. Support your child as you would want to be supported.

JFS Orlando offers individual, couples, and family counseling on issues ranging from depression, anxiety, and grief. Please call (407) 644-7593 ext. 247 or email to learn more about our services.

Author: Brenda Chappell

Brenda Chappell is a Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern. She specializes in working with adolescents, children, and their parents with a variety of issues such as depression, anxiety, poor school performance, divorce, and grief. She has worked with children at home and schools, at domestic violence shelters, and with adults in office outpatient therapy. Brenda holds a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology from Palm Beach Atlantic University with a specialty in Play Therapy.