How to help kids deal with divorce

When divorce happens, many parents either give their children too much information or not enough. How do you find a balance?

Each year, around 46,000 couples go through a divorce.

And with almost half of all divorces in Australia involving children under 18, it can be a time of tension, sadness and uncertainty for the whole family.

For some families, divorce will be relatively straightforward, while for others the impacts may be further-reaching.

In the midst of this, children need to be appropriately informed about changes, says University of the Sunshine Coast senior psychology lecturer Rachael Sharman.

“You don’t want to involve kids in the ins and outs – ‘your father did this’ or ‘your mother said that’ – but some parents don’t explain enough, so their child’s imagination runs wild,” Says Sharman.

“The key is to make sure that kids understand what is happening is an adult issue and not their fault.”

Here’s an age-by-age guide to helping a child deal with divorce and separation:

Preschool-aged children

Preschoolers don’t really understand what a marriage is and that mummy and daddy are a couple – all they know is that people live together, says Sharman.

“Let them know that you and your partner will live in different houses now and this is what will happen to kinder and to their toys,” she says.

“Reassure them they can have contact with the other parent because their concern will be that a permanent fixture in their house is disappearing.”

Make the nightly calls to your ex-partner for the first few weeks to establish contact and keep everything else in their life as routine as possible.

kids and divorce

Primary school-aged children

This age group may start to have opinions about what has happened, and they’ll be more sensitive to arguments and tension.

Don’t be surprised if they assign each parent a “good” or “bad” role.

“Explain that some people find it too hard to stay friends and to live together as they get older. Use their own experiences of losing a friend as an example,” says Sharman.

“Keep it simple and factual, but don’t say anything damaging about the other parent.

“And keep your promises. If you promise to see them every weekend, don’t let children down.”

Involve them in discussions about where they are going to live and school arrangements.

And emphasise that what is happening is not their fault and that they are loved.

kids and divorce


This age group will have a good idea of what is going on even if you think they don’t, and they will make their own judgments.

Teenagers also need to have more say in their future living arrangements.

“Treat them like young adults,” says Sharman.

“But always take the higher road with teenagers – even if you think your partner is the worst person in the world, don’t bag them out.

“Teenagers hate that, because you are criticising 50 per cent of their DNA.

“If one parent has behaved badly, refer your teenager to that parent to talk about it.

“Don’t get drawn into discussing their bad behaviour.”

Want to open up better discussions with your child? Here are 20 questions to really get them talking.

Written by Sarah Marinos.