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Breaking Divorce News to Kids

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: How do I tell my children their father and I are divorcing? They know something is wrong; they hear the fighting and see that we don't speak to each other. How do I tell them that I'm the one asking for the divorce?

A: I would need to know the ages of your kids to give the best advice. However, unless they are quite young, they're probably worried about the relationship they're observing between you and your husband. It's unfair, given they haven't been told anything but can clearly see and hear your troubles.

If possible, both of you need to come together on how and what you're going to tell them. They need to be told as much truth (why, when, how) as is helpful for them to comprehend what is about to happen. They need to be told the answers to some basic questions all kids have: Did we do anything to make you and daddy do this? Where will I stay and with whom? Will you ever be together again? Why are you making daddy leave?

There are many books that deal with how parents should approach this situation. Ask your reference librarian for her recommendations. I like Chapter 7 (Separation, Divorce and Abandonment: Telling the Kind of Truth Kids Need to Hear) in Ava Siegler's book, What Should I Tell the Kids? It gives a fine overview of all your concerns and includes reparative narratives (stories with a beginning, middle, and optimistic ending) to tell your kids. A family therapist may be useful to consult before you begin this process. It will help you develop a blueprint that addresses your children's and your family's specific concerns.

This can be a very stressful time. Remember that how you handle this will have a lasting impact on your kids and your actions and words should be appropriate. If you're going to keep up the fighting and blaming, please get some professional help for the children's sake. This isn't a war to be won. It's an awful situation to be handled with as much compassion as possible.

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.


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