The Worst Things You Can Say to a Child During a Divorce or Separation

Divorce (and separation) is still one of the hardest things for a child to digest. Emotions typically run high when romantic relationships dissolve. Depending upon the nature of your romance, the effects of divorce on the children involved are often huge, and life-altering. On the other side, exposing kids to relationships that are abusive or unhappy has even more devastating results. Thus, it’s sometimes necessary to end romantic entanglements-especially because children are involved. But breaking the news to children is usually difficult. And if you don’t have an objective mind, you can do a lot more damage to a child than you imagined. Here are some things you should never say to children caught in the middle of your divorce or separation.

“Mommy/Daddy has a new boyfriend/girlfriend.”

The love of your life may in fact, have chosen to move on with someone else. But hinging your explanation on your spouse’s infidelity is not entirely prudent. Children are very observant, and may already even be privy to certain things happening in the marriage. But introducing a third party as a primary factor in the relationship’s demise often creates even more confusing feelings for children. Furthermore, they may eventually develop negative feelings about marriage and relationships in general.

“Mommy/Daddy doesn’t love us anymore.”

There is perhaps no more inappropriate an explanation for separation as this one. This may see like a cruel admission to make during divorce-talk with a child. But you would be surprised by the many ways this sentiment can be “interpreted” to kids. Perhaps in your attempt to cushion the news, you’ve inadvertently (or not so inadvertently) blamed the break-up on your mate’s abandonment of the family. The relationship with your former mate should be kept entirely separate from the child’s relationship with his other parent.

“Being a Mommy/Daddy was too hard.”

Unfortunately, sometimes relationships do fall apart because of the strains of childrearing. But if this was the case in your romance, the children should never be privy to this information. Children do not have the liberty of choosing whether or not to be born. Thus, once they’ve arrived, it is the adult’s responsibility to prevent kids from feeling as if their presence was somehow a “burden” to either you or your spouse.

“We’re going to be poor, now.”

One of the biggest problems associated with divorce or separation is the division of assets. Families with two working parents often have it a little better than households with a single parent. But it is completely unfair to a child to create a sense of foreboding regarding financial matters. Nonetheless, instead of glossing over your kids’ questions, teach them ways to conserve energy, manage their allowances, and make wise purchases. These are tools that will serve them well whether you are married or not.

“Dad has other children…”

As daytime television dictates, there may be some extremely sticky details involved in your divorce or separation. Sometimes those details involve children conceived outside of your relationship. You should use the same discretion in approaching this sensitive topic as you would in describing the Birds and the Bees. Siblings who haven’t met should never be introduced to each other with malice or shame. But before any mention of other children is even made, it is imperative that you adequately discuss your divorce or separation first.


One of the easiest pitfalls that parents fall into is bad-mouthing the other parent to their children. You may not think that there is much harm in casually divulging that Mom or Dad is selfish/lazy/dishonest, etc. But casting an unpleasant light on your mate will only confuse and upset your child. And if your mate happens to be doing the same thing about you, you’re in for double trouble. Young children don’t have the mental capacity yet to understand the all the dynamics involved in adult romance. Divorcing or separating couples owe it to their children to ensure that the kids have unburdened relationships with each parent.

“We’ll get back together…”

Maybe you and your spouse have decided on a trial separation, just to work some things out. But when breaking this news to children, it’s important not to instill false hope. The worst thing for children to do is wonder from day to day when their parents will reunite. Making promises that you cannot fulfill may foster trust issues between you and your child much later down the line.


Transplanted New Yawwwker (Bronx, NY), now living in fabulous Atlanta – plunged into the music industry several years ago; Indie Flick Junkie, lover of all things paranormal–who has a penchant for mindless…  View profile

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