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During a Divorce, How Do I Let My Kids Know Everything Will Be Okay, Even When I'm Not Sure It Will Be?

Upset child with parents arguing in the background

​​ ​This information is included in our Guide to Parenting for Today's Family. Click here to see the rest of the guide.

Divorce is one of the most emotionally disruptive events a family can endure. It affects everyone, and it's especially hard on children because they don't have the emotional or cognitive maturity to handle such a devastating blow. 

First of all, don't try to keep your divorce a secret from your kids or lie to them about it. Kids are smart and they'll eventually figure out what's going on; then they'll resent you for not being truthful. Start out by explaining, "Things will be a lot different," and then give them examples of what will be different. You also can tell your children that while you're not exactly sure what will happen, you are sure that you'll still care for each other as a family and that they'll be safe.

It's also a good idea to try to keep household routines the same for your kids. Waking up, having breakfast, doing chores, dinnertime, bedtime... these are all reassuring constants kids can cling to in order to maintain some semblance of "normal" in a world that has suddenly been turned upside-down.

Tell your children you don't have all the answers, but that you're always willing to talk to them and listen to them. Reassure them that the whole family is in this together, and that even though it's hard to understand why this is happening right now, things will work out. Again, be honest. If your kids are old enough, talk to them about custody and their new living arrangements.

You may be tempted to "be strong" in front of the children and not show any emotion at all.  But kids are intuitive. They're likely to see through that and worry that things are worse than they are. It's okay and natural to share how you are feeling with your children. But you have to put a limit on how much you share so you don't overburden them. And while it's normal for you to be sad, and for your child to see and understand this, don't make it a constant occurrence. Otherwise, your child could begin to feel responsible for your sadness.

Grieving is normal during divorce or separation. It's unrealistic for you to "put on a brave face" all the time. Your kids need you... but you also need them. Together, you can form a mutual support system that can help all of you get through this difficult time in a way that would be impossible on your own. And don't hesitate to let others who are close to your family - relatives and friends - be part of that system.