How Do You Explain Divorce to Kids?

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When there’s talk of divorce — like that of tabloid reports alleging Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner might be headed for a split — little ears pick up on it, too. (Photo by C Flanigan/WireImage) 

Tabloid reports aren’t typically a topic of discussion for my 4-year-old and me, but when he heard me gasp, ‘Oh no’ in the car after the hosts of my morning radio show started gossiping about a possible split between Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck, I had some explaining to do. 

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But how does one discuss the dreaded “D” word with a preschooler? His immediate questions were important ones — “What’s a divorce?” “Why wouldn’t they want to live in the same house?” and “Does everyone get divorced?” And yet answering on the spot (not to mention while driving 40-miles-an-hour, unable to even look back and check his expression) proved, well, tricky. 

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The couple, with children Seraphina, Violet, and Samuel, last year. (Photo: Daniel Robertson/startraksphoto.com). 

Talking about divorce doesn’t have to be dramatic, though, psychotherapist and 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do author Amy Morin tells Yahoo Parenting. For children in the 4- to 6-year-old range, she advises, just remember that less is more. Simply keep things matter-of-fact, so you don’t frighten or further confuse them, and stick to these three talking points: 

1. Sometimes parents stop getting along and don’t want to live in the same house anymore.
“A brief explanation about what divorce means can satisfy a child’s curiosity,” says Morin. “It’s best to keep explanations short because extra details can confuse young children.” Often, they just want a quick explanation and then they’ll turn their attention to their next activity, she adds, noting, “Offering extra details can add to their anxiety.” 

2. We’re working really hard to prevent divorce.
Parents can alleviate their child’s fears that you’ll get a divorce by making it clear that you’re doing all that you can to prevent it from happening. “Just avoid saying, ‘We’ll never get divorced,’” she adds, “because unfortunately, most parents who do get divorced didn’t imagine it would happen to them, either.” 

3. Parents who get divorced still love their children.
“It’s essential for all kids to understand that divorce is never a child’s fault,” says Morin. Reinforcing that parents’ love for their children doesn’t change after divorce provides reassurance that mom and dad don’t divorce their kids, they divorce one another. “Otherwise, they may believe ‘Mom left me,’ or ‘Dad didn’t want to live with me anymore,’ which can be very damaging to their self-worth,” she says. “So explain that even when parents don’t live together, they still adore their children.” 

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