Figuring out how to discuss separation with my kids when their dad and I broke up was one of the hardest parts of the actual separation. Besides your own feelings you have about your breakup, you’re also feeling a bunch of different emotions on behalf of your kids.
Although it’s hard to tell your young kids what’s going on, don’t make the mistake of not telling them because you think it’s out of their grasp or they won’t know what’s going on.
Young toddlers can tell there is a disruption in their home and they pick up on both of their parent’s tones and moods and they deserve an explanation.
That being said, you do need to keep it age appropriate. You don’t want to make the mistake of telling them too much.
I read a lot of articles when my ex and I separated to figure out the best way to discuss separation with young kids. If you’ve never been through this before, you’re probably at a loss as to how to approach the subject, how much should you say, and when you should say it. I wanted to create this resource to offer tips to help you handle this difficult subject with your kids.
How to discuss separation with young kids
1. Be neutral- This I think is one of the most important tips, but one of the hardest too. When you sit down to talk with your kids be as neutral as you can about the situation. Don’t blame their dad for the separation, (even if he shared blame or was at fault), and don’t make exaggerated claims (who knows when he’ll show up next or when you’ll see him). This is just going to cause confusion, fear, and anger in your kids. Your kids are already going to have a big adjustment with their dad not living at home anymore. They don’t need anything more that will make the situation or relationship with their dad harder. Relationship issues with their dad now will cause problems down the line as they get older.
One of the things I told myself when my kid’s dad and I broke up, was if they ever ended up with daddy issues, it wouldn’t be because of me! I made a promise to myself that I would support their relationship with him because I want the very best for them. I want them to be secure in their relationship with both of us because that’s only going to benefit them.
Related: How To Cope With Separation As A Mom
2. Let your kids express their feelings- Your kids may have a range of emotions from sad to happy to angry. Or they may not show any emotions at all. Let them know you are there for them no matter how they feel. Assure them they are allowed to feel however they want and you and their dad will love them no matter if they are happy, sad, mad, or any other emotion they may have.
3. Role-play- Some kids don’t want to talk directly about what’s going on even if you are encouraging and supportive. But sometimes when they’re playing with toys they pretend they are someone else. Suddenly they are willing to talk about what they are going through or their feelings through the lens of the toy. (The dolly misses her daddy, the toy tells another toy how his daddy doesn’t live in their house anymore, the kitty is sad her daddy isn’t there, etc.)
These are great opportunities for you to ask the “toy” questions, tell the “toy” it’s ok to feel however they are feeling, and reassure the “toy” that it’s normal to feel this way and it will be ok.
4. Only tell them what’s necessary- At the time my son wasn’t old enough to need explaining so I told my daughter the bare minimum of what she needed to know and left out any extra details. I wanted her to be aware of what was happening but not be confused with things that I didn’t know yet. For example, initially I wasn’t sure how or where visits were going to take place so I purposely left that vague.
I also used simple language when explaining what was going on as she was a young toddler.
“Daddy won’t be living here but he is still loves you and your brother very much. He is still going to come here to spend time with you and play with you.”
5. If possible, talk to your kids together- This isn’t always possible, but it’s beneficial for your kids to have both you and their dad talking with them about what’s happening. That way if they have questions or feelings, they have both of you there to ask/express them to.
6. Explain what life will look like now- What will visitation be? Where will they be going to see their dad? How often will they see their dad? Again, use simple language when explaining this.
In my situation, my kid’s did not go to visit their dad, he came to my house to see them. So when my daughter would ask if she could go to daddy’s house I would say, “There are none of your things where daddy lives. Your toys are here, your food is here, your bed is here, so for now daddy will be coming here to visit you.”
Kids thrive on routine and consistency. If they don’t know when they’ll see their dad next or where they will see him that’s scary and confusing for them. Letting your kids know what’s going on will help them with the transition because they will know what to expect. The more consistent you are with what you tell them the quicker they will come to learn the new routine.
Related: 6 Tips For Successful Co-Parenting
7. Reassure your kids they aren’t to blame- Young kids are egocentric meaning they understand things through their own views and beliefs and can’t understand other’s views or beliefs. They may likely feel like they have done something to cause the separation or if they behave a certain way they will be able to “fix” the situation and dad can move back in.
You and their dad need to reassure them you love them and that nothing they did caused the separation. It’s up to you to decide how much you want to share with your kids but you can tell them daddy and mommy get along better when we don’t live together. Or another watered down version of why separation was the best option.
Discussing separation with your young kids is one of the more difficult things you will have to do. I know how hard it is to have to sit down with your babies and explain that everything is going to be different. I know how it is when you feel a certain way about what’s happening and you have other emotions for how it’ll affect your kids. I’m not gonna sit here and say it will be easy to explain it to them because it probably won’t be. It wasn’t for me. But when you’re going through a period of life where everything is in upheaval, these tips can give you the guidance you need on how to discuss separation with young kids.