One of the most difficult parts of our divorce after 10 years of marriage was figuring out how to tell our children in a way that would best support both their understanding, and our healthy path forward as a family. Thankfully, leading up to this moment, we were working weekly for nearly a year with a wonderful couples therapist who specializes in this, and she helped us make the following script for how to tell kids about divorce.
Feel free to use the following words and modify them for your specific situation — but I also urge you to find a therapist (both individual and couples) to guide you through the process. Telling the kids in this scripted manner takes more work and preparation, but is well worth it for the strong foundation it creates for your future together.
The Format: How, When, and Where:
We decided to format the following script into a book printed through CVS (you can use any local photo service) which cost about $12 with discount coupons, and took a week to make. We made 4 copies so there would be one in both of our houses, plus the grandparents’ homes. To format the book, we created a joint CVS account and alternated logging in to add photos of us with the kids. Our final book had ten pages total, and approximately 40 photos interspersed.
For the day of telling the kids, our therapist coached us to pick a comfortable time and place (we chose the playroom, after lunch), during a time we would all be together in the house for at least 1-2 weeks before one of us moved out. While reading the book explaining about the divorce, we were instructed to go very slowly, pausing each page to ask the kids how they were feeling and what they were thinking.
When we got to the difficult pages, our task was to actively listen to and affirm everything each child said — not negate anything. For example, if they said, “I don’t want this breakup to happen!” what the parents should say is, “I hear you that you really don’t want this breakup to happen!” and give them a huge hug.
You’ll notice that the script doesn’t have a lot of specifics for the how and when of moving out. This was on purpose, as our therapist explained that when the brain is overwhelmed, it can’t process information until it’s ready. We therefore were instructed to hold off on these details until the kids asked for them, ex: “Where is the new second house?” and focus on a short, impactful message.
Script for How to Tell Kids About Divorce:
What follows is the full script for how to tell kids about divorce (words in italics), followed by an explanation about the purpose behind each section. If you would like a Word version of this template to pull from for your own book, you can download it here. Of course, if you are a same-gender couple, or if you are called other names besides “Mommy” and “Daddy,” feel free to change those words, as well as anything else that doesn’t fit your situation. Our kids are 6 and 8 years old, so you may need to alter the wording to be more age-appropriate for your own children.
The Story of Our Family So Far
Here is the story of the ____ family from [starting year] to [present year].
When Mommy and Daddy met in the year ____, they loved so much about each other. Mommy loved how Daddy is ____. Daddy loved how Mommy is ____.
We decided in [year] to get married, and became husband and wife.
We loved each other so much as husband and wife, that in [year], we decided to bring even more love to our family… by having [name of first child]!
Our love blossomed with [name of first child], and we knew it was right to become parents of two children. So, in [year], we decided to bring… [name of second child] into our family!
For the next ____ years, our family and love flourished with the four of us. We know that our strong love will never diminish!
Analysis of Pages 1-5:
This first half of the book helps the kids create a positive narrative of the relationship from the beginning, understanding that the marriage was full of love and importance, and that their own creation was very much wanted and celebrated. It also paints a picture of mutual admiration, respect, and collaboration between the co-parents.
This year is ____. That brings us to some changes that are happening in our family.
In the last few years, Daddy and Mommy have transitioned to a different kind of loving relationship: that of friends instead of husband and wife.
[Explain WHY in the most kind and kid-friendly way possible, in a manner that will help (not harm) your children’s future templates for relationships. In our case, we explained that over time, we began to have very different interests, and wanted very different things in life.]
Now, we have decided to live in two separate homes, and to no longer be husband and wife.
At the same time, we will always love each other as [name of children]’s Mommy and Daddy, and through that love, we will ALWAYS be a family together.
We are making a decision that only grown-ups can make, so please don’t think that you could have done anything about this occurring, or that you did anything to make this occur.
Only adults can make this choice, just as adults are the only ones who can make the choice to be married in the first place.
Mommy and Daddy would love to hear from each of you. We are here to answer any questions you have, and to listen to any comments you’d like to make. We both care very much about your thoughts and your feelings, and we love you so much!
This book is for you to read and re-read to remember that we will always love you, we will always be a family, and we will always be here for you.
Your Adoring Mommy and Daddy
Analysis of Pages 6-10:
This second half of the book gives a broad overview that the separation is happening, and why, while emphasizing that the co-parents will remain a caring team, unified in supporting the children. Note the emphasis on the divorce decision being a decision for grown-ups only; this is key because the children may beg you to change your mind, but all you need to do is repeat what they say, as in, “I hear you — you want us to change our minds!” while standing firm to the grown-up decision that you have decided, after a long time of deliberation, is the best course of action for everyone involved.
What Happened When We Told the Kids?
Now that you’ve seen the book we used to tell our children about the separation, the natural question is: What happened when we read it? Well — it was extremely intense, but went as well as it could go, thanks to all the coaching we’d gotten beforehand from our therapist.
As we read the first half of the book, the kids were delighted and happy, exclaiming over the joyous old photos, and reminiscing about past times. Then when we got to the separation announcement on page 6 — they started screaming and crying. Part of me was surprised because I thought they already suspected the trajectory, but they clearly hadn’t.
Our son started yelling, “You’re breaking up?! What?! NO!” and bouncing wildly up and down on a nearby ball. Our daughter wailed, “NO, I don’t want this! No!!!!” As our therapist had predicted, my maternal instinct screamed at me to just call the whole decision off and stay living together — but then I remembered that the separation was the result of a huge amount of time, work, and thought, and was absolutely for the best. So we simply held our kids close, and repeated everything they said with empathy, negating none of their emotions. “Yes, we hear you! You don’t want this!”
The next hour and a half was heart-wrenching, but as predicted by our counselor, the kids were slowly able to process the information, and then begin to ask questions to elicit specifics — many of which they found reassuring (ex: the new second house was next to their school, they would have their own bedrooms with duplicates of every item, and we weren’t changing anything else about their usual routine or activities). Our therapist had also suggested that the kids might try to tear up or stomp on the book in anger, but that did not happen.
After that tear-filled start, everything miraculously began to smooth out. My co-parent and I were able to have a number of beautiful conversations with each child individually, and as they metabolized the changes, the kids were able to start visiting the new apartment to set it up in a nourishing way. We also let our kids’ teachers, camps, and friends’ families know about our family transition so they could be informed for best village support. Our 50-50 custody schedule is now working wonderfully, and I’m clear that we made the correct choice.
This is not to say that there will be zero issues in terms of the kids processing the divorce in the future years to come (of course there will be!), but I will say that this scripted book method was instrumental in telling the kids about the separation in a way that best set us all up for loving teamwork and success. Besides the fact that we both adore and will do anything to support them, the biggest message I keep trying to convey to our kids is that it’s ok to feel emotions and to talk about them honestly — even when they’re hard.
Telling Kids About Divorce, in Sum
I hope this plan and script template for how to tell kids about a divorce or separation is as helpful and successful for you as it was for us. I am eternally thankful to the trained professionals who guided us through this difficult but important journey! I strongly recommend reading the logical next article in this series: “10 Actionable Co-Parenting Tips After Divorce.”
If you’ve gone through telling your children about a divorce or separation, what words of wisdom or experiences do you have to share? If not, what questions do you have? Do let us know in the comment section below, and do share this article with anyone it might benefit.
I took the travel photos here in Juno Beach, Florida, during a trip with our son.
The author, Lillie Marshall, is a 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 4.2 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!