Talking about divorce is one of the toughest topics you may have to address with your child. Preparation can help ease the stress of the discussion.

We spoke with Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital Director of Social Work Toya Pride about how to respond to your child’s questions and where to turn to for help.

Separation and divorce impact the dynamics of a family. The best way to help a child cope with divorce is to be open and honest and allow the child to ask questions and express their feelings. Often, parents believe it is better to hide reality from children and adolescents, but more often than not, children can already sense when something is wrong at home. Children sometimes feel guilt or blame themselves during divorce, so be sure to provide reassurance and make it clear that your child is loved.

No one enters into a marriage expecting it to end, but divorce is a common experience. About 40 to 50 percent of married couples in the Unites States divorce, according to the American Psychological Association. Separation and divorce are emotionally difficult events, but it is possible to address them in healthy ways.

Children are wonderful observers. They are also very resilient. Help your child put his or her feelings into words. Then, meet your child wherever he or she is in the understanding process.

How do I tell my child my spouse and I are divorcing?

  • A great approach is to reach out to a Marriage and Family Therapist for support and guidance about ways to inform your child in an age appropriate way. Learn more about the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and find a therapist at http://www.aamft.org/imis15/AAMFT/Content/Directories/Find_a_Therapist.aspx.
  • You can also purchase children’s books with photos to help explain the situation. Sharing examples of other children whose parents have divorced can be helpful. Be sure to discuss each step with your spouse. If possible, talk to your child together to not only make sure your child feels love and support, but that he or she understands this is a decision between you and your spouse and has nothing to do with the child.
  • Before talking with your child, make sure you are on the same page with your spouse on how this will affect your family and home environment.

How can I alleviate any guilt my child is feeling?

  • Reassure your child that it isn’t his fault. Explain that sometimes it’s not in the family’s best interest for parents to stay together. No matter how things may change going forward, you still love and will be there for your child.
  • Parents sometimes underestimate the amount of tension or stress they exude when in discord. It’s important to be self-aware. Children pay attention to more than we sometimes give them credit for.

How should I expect my child to act after my spouse and I divorce?

  • Expect your child to have questions and encourage him to ask questions any time. Also encourage him or her to feel free to always share feelings. Your child may become frustrated or angry. Be sure to listen to your child. A big responsibility as a parent is to expect the unexpected and deal with things head-on. Always move at a pace that is comfortable with your child.