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Meirav's guide: "How to tell children about the breakup"

עודכן: 23 בדצמ׳ 2021


Meirav Yerushalmi, mediator and parent counsellor.


There is a right way to divorce. A way that will ensure the happiness of each one of you and minimize the harm most dear to you - your children. This path begins here and now - in the way you choose to tell children about the breakup. This is not a simple conversation, and you must prepare in advance- preferably together with your partner! In this conversation, it is important that you put the children first and try to see the world from their point of view.


Whether and when to tell children?

It is advisable to involve the children only before they actually see the change, for example when one of the parents leaves the house. Sometimes couples will decide on a separation before finally deciding on divorce and will try to hide it from the children. But children deserve to know what is going on, and they also need it to maintain a sense of security and stability. So, if you have decided to separate but are not sure what will happen next, tell the kids.

However, if you already know that separation will inevitably lead to divorce - do not try to embellish reality and present it as a temporary separation only. Remember that your child will have the hope that one day their father and mother will come back to live together. A determined and consistent message will help him come to terms with the new reality.


The Timing of the Conversation

Studies show that children who are exposed to the knowledge about divorce long before separation find it harder to deal with it because they are preoccupied for a long time with the fear and apprehension upon them. On the other hand, you should give them enough time to digest the message and get used to it. Of course, the time of advance notice also depends on the age of the child. I recommend, if possible, scheduling the message a week or two before parting.


Conversation Preparation

I am sure it is clear that you must convey stability and security to the children. Convey the message that you are not separated from them, and nor because of them. I am also sure it is clear you need to present a future reality in which the impact on the routine of their lives is minimal and that they are not going to lose you, the parents.

And yet, many times I find parents who do not plan the conversation in advance or that it is left in the hands of only one parent. If you want to convey to your children a message of security, stability, and a united front as parents - you must have the conversation together and after you have planned it well. Planning will increase the chances that you will say everything you wanted to say, in the way you wanted to say it.


Within this conversation, put aside the conflict between you and your partner- you do not want this conflict to surface during the conversation with your children. Therefore, you should process the details in advance between yourselves:

  • What is the reason for the divorce, which you intend to present to the children (depending on their age and understanding)?

  • When will the change take place and what will it be - who leaves the house, when and where?

  • What they can expect - what days will the children stay with each parent, what is the effect on their daily routine (school, friends, classes, etc.)

If possible, try to anticipate the children's questions and prepare answers in advance, alongside discussing all details you wish to disclose with your partner. Without sufficient planning, tension may arise exposing the child to the conflict.


Rules for a good conversation

  • Keep the conversation calm - it is important that you stay composed and positive during the conversation. Remember that the way you present the separation to the children is how they will perceive it. Gather yourself for the conversation, put aside the anger and tensions and concentrate on building the children's confidence for what is going to happen.


  • Do not turn to accusations - This will demonstrate the conflict between you and your partner. Feelings of resentment and accusations will exacerbate feelings of insecurity and uncertainty in the child. More than that, he may feel they are obliged to pick sides. This is not the time to argue and blame. Try to maintain a united and calm front. Use the word "we" and not "I", so that he understands that this is a joint decision and that the concern for him was and will continue to be shared.


  • Provide a reason - of course, you should not involve the children in the reasons for the divorce, and they do not need to know why or who initiated the breakup. At the same time, it may be difficult for them to understand why you are separating and not trying to overcome disagreements (just as you teach them to do with their friends). Therefore, it is worth explaining that you do not get along and believe that separately you can provide them with a more relaxed and happier environment.


  • It's not the children's fault - you know it, but you should ensure they do not feel that way. Many children tend to feel that it is their fault and if they had behaved differently, they could have prevented the separation. It is important that you tell them that it is not their fault and that the decision is related to you as a couple. Right now, and in the future, they need to hear from you and feel that you love them no matter what happens.


  • Be sensitive to their reactions - there is a wide range of possible reactions, and this varies depending on the child's character and age. Show empathy to every emotion the child presents - anger, crying or even a lack of reaction. Many children are unable to express their feelings and they need your help as parents, so they feel comfortable doing so without you getting angry or disappointed. Be careful not to dismiss their feelings with statements like "Why are you crying?" Or "It's not that terrible." Leave room for conversation about their feelings. Note that even a lack of response requires exploration, for example, if your child is stormy on the inside and is afraid or does not know how to express his feelings and needs help. At the same time, do not stress too much, give it time to "stew".


  • The children are likely to have many questions and you should encourage them to ask these, especially around the direct impact on their routine. Try to come up with ready and clear answers. If you do not have an answer, tell them you will talk about it with the other parent and answer them later. It is important that you encourage them to express their emotions - ask them what they are feeling, if they are crying, ask them why- show empathy and give space for all types of feelings to come up.


  • This is not a ‘bang, and we’re done’. Naturally, your children will continue to deal with the divorce even after the conversation. Along the way, they will have more questions and new emotions that will arise, and it is important that you are sensitive to this. From time to time it is worth asking how they are, even if they did not express new feelings.


What bothers your kids

Your children are not always able to express their fears and bothers, so try to think about what might be on their mind, even if they do not express it. I think you may find yourself surprised by their answers. It could be big things, such as 'When will I see mom / dad?', 'Where will I live?', 'What did I do that made Dad and Mom get divorced?'.


Equally, it could be smaller things - 'Will I keep going to my classes?', 'Will I have my toys in the new house as well?', 'Will Mom also know how to make me the eggs I like that Dad makes for me every night (or vice versa)?'.


Sometimes they make assumptions based on what they know from their friends. For example, 'when Roy's parents got divorced, his father moved to a city far away - will that happen to me too?'

Try to identify what your children are feeling and what questions are bothering them, remember that small things, as well as big ones, can bother them.


Moving to a New House

As a result of the separation, one or both spouses may move into a new home, a transition that may increase the tension felt by the children. However, this transition can be turned into a positive and shared experience! The parent moving house can ask for their opinions on apartments, or give them a choice of rooms, a new bed, furniture, etc. When it comes to young children, it may be possible to take a toy or doll they like to their new room, to help them adjust. It is worthwhile to do an introductory tour with them in the neighbourhood too.

Share this new transition with the children which will make the transition easier for them by fulfilling their needs.


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Meirav Yerushalmi, mediator and parent counsellor.

Email: merav@gishur-horim.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/meravye/

Phone: 050-6136232



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