Young Children Do Not Understand Divorce; Focusing On Fears

At what age should children understand why mommy and daddy are getting divorced? The common rule divorce and family law attorneys tell people is not to talk to the children about the divorce or family law case. While this advice is good and reflected in the initial mutual standing order directing both parties not to talk disparagingly about one another, children can become confused and frightened when they notice a change in patterns and suspect things are wrong, even if they do not really understand what they fear. Anticipating their concerns and waiting for children to ask questions can be challenging for a parent whose “kid gloves” might otherwise be off, as they move through the divorce process.

Can we remember what it is like to experience the world through the eye of a child?

Young children often respond to basic fears and overwhelming uncertainty about the world in which they live, which can be a rather small universe. Remember being young and going on a trip in the car that seemed like the grandest journey when in reality it was what most adults consider routine? Imagine most young kids are off in their heads and imagination and they are not concerned with the adult challenges we face in life. Children respond to what they perceive as good, bad, happy and sad. They know when their parents are with them and they worry and are often stressed out when it seems like forever for their return, if only a few hours.

Being strong does not mean being silent. Acknowledgement can be a sign of strength and control.

Parents usually look like superheroes to their children who believe they are the source of all that is good in the world, and they can do no wrong. As parents, We are reminded not to talk poorly about the other parent during divorce, but absolute silence about the other parent is not necessarily a good thing. If you acknowledge that a child’s other parent loves them, you confirm and validate a sense of security that is very important to a child. Even if you suspect the other parent is speaking poorly about you to the kids, focusing on the good things about your soon to be ex-spouse shows that you are strong and in control. Children can sense a lack of stability and fear among parents.

Psychologists recognize that how and what you tell your children about divorce is perplexing.

Parents know their children, even the youngest ones, are unique and they all handle information differently, and the news of divorce and the children’s’ concerns may be best addressed on an individual basis when they have questions.

When it comes to you and/or your spouse first telling the children,

Dr. Heather Westberg and her colleagues offer the following tips [i]:

1.Give much thought to the setting and circumstances when you break the news. Do not underestimate how long your children will remember that moment.

2.Gather the whole family and tell everyone. Make no child responsible for the divorce news (or for keeping secrets).

3.Don’t assume how children will react, and let them feel all the feelings, even when those feelings are confusing to you.

4.When you decide to end the marriage, end it swiftly. No one will win either way.

5.Be supportive of painful reactions and answer difficult questions honestly.

6.Take responsibility for the divorce and be unified in your message to the children.


At the end of the day, a parent can become overwhelmed with tips and information about how to best talk to and console young children experiencing the trauma of divorce. Knowing how each of your children may react and taking the time to calmly and patiently answer their questions concerns takes time. Taking the time and patience to reassure and acknowledge young children, their fears and imaginations is important. Later in life, they might not remember what you say, but they may remember how they felt and whether fear or safety was your tone.

If your divorce and family law matter is particularly challenging on you and your children, your attorney may bring in the support of a mental health professional or counselor to help work through the tough challenges. At Scroggins Law Group, Mark Scroggins has years or experience working with divorcing families and can help make the process more emotionally manageable.

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*Mark L. Scroggins is *board-certified in family law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Unless otherwise noted, other attorneys are not *board-certified.

**Super Lawyers (a Thomson Reuters service, awarded to Mark Scroggins 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021)

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