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Divorce is a difficult period and can be particularly challenging if you have children. Here we look at what it can mean and how to deal with it.

Divorce with children

Going through a divorce is one of life’s most challenging periods, especially when children are involved. For children, parental separation can bring a world of change, uncertainty and emotional turbulence. As a parent, it is important to approach this sensitive situation with great care, understanding and support to mitigate its impact on the youngest.

Divorcing with children requires open communication, joint efforts to maintain stability and love, and strategies to manage the emotional well-being of both parents and children. Navigating the divorce in a way that protects the best interests of children and provides them with the security and structure they need is critical to their adjustment and long-term health.

The Central Statistics Office (CSO) reports that there were 133,420 people in Ireland counted as divorced at Census 2022. Ireland has the second-lowest rate of divorce in the EU, with 0.6 divorces per 1,000 people compared to a European average of 1.6 per 1,000.

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How to tell children about divorce?

Telling children about divorce is a difficult conversation that requires care, sensitivity and honesty. It is important to adapt the conversation to the child’s age and maturity level, and to convey the message in a way that minimises anxiety and uncertainty. Here are some steps to facilitate the conversation:

  1. Plan the conversation: Decide on a time when you can talk privately, and make sure both parents are present if possible, to show a united front and support. Also, tell them as soon as you decide, but be sure of your decision.
  2. Be honest but careful: Explain the situation in a simple and clear way, without going into adult details that could be harmful or confusing for the child. It may be enough to say that the parents are no longer in love with each other and therefore need to separate.
  3. Assurance of love: It is crucial that the child understands that the divorce does not affect the parents’ love for them. Children need to hear that they are not the cause of the divorce and that their parents’ care for them remains unchanged.
  4. Describe what will change and what will stay the same: Give the child a clear picture of the practical changes that will take place, while emphasising the aspects of their life that will remain constant.
  5. Listen and answer questions: Be open to the child’s reactions and questions. It is important to listen actively and respond honestly to their concerns. Let the process take its time and answer questions as they arise.
  6. Offer support: Reassure the child that it’s okay to feel and express their feelings, and that support is available, whether from parents, other family members, or professionals.

Navigating a conversation about divorce requires time, patience and a lot of care. The primary goal is to reassure the child that they will continue to be loved and supported through this change.

Reactions to divorce in children and young people of different ages

Children’s reactions to divorce vary according to their age and stage of development. Young children may become more clingy and experience anxiety upon separation, while preschoolers may feel guilty and wonder if they are the cause of the divorce. School-age children may show signs of sadness, anger and anxiety about changes in everyday life. Teenagers may react with anger, rebellion or social withdrawal, and they may question their own relationships. Any age can experience emotional pain and confusion, but with the right support and communication, children can adapt and learn to cope with the change.


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Dealing with divorce with children in the best possible way

To create a stable and positive foundation for children after a divorce, it is crucial to focus on communication, cooperation and consistency. Here are some key steps:

  1. Maintain open communication: Make sure children feel they can talk about their feelings and thoughts about the divorce and the changes it brings.
  2. Parental cooperation: Despite the divorce, strive to maintain respectful and cooperative parenting. Consistency between homes in terms of rules and routines helps the child feel secure.
  3. Stable environment: Try to maintain as much stability and routine in the child’s daily life as possible, including school, extracurricular activities and social relationships.
  4. Assurance of love: Children need repeated assurances that both parents continue to love them and that the divorce is not their fault.
  5. Manage conflicts away from children: Avoid involving children in adult conflicts or speaking negatively about the other parent in front of the child.
  6. Adapting information: Give your child age-appropriate information about what is happening and what the future holds. Here you can also read about how to introduce a new partner when that day comes.
  7. Seek support if needed: Consider involving a therapist or child psychologist if extra support is needed to deal with the emotions of the divorce.
  8. Build new traditions: Create new positive traditions and memories that strengthen the bonds within the new family structure.

By creating a sense of normalcy, safety and love, children can better navigate the life changes of divorce and develop a strong foundation for the future.


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12 common questions about divorce with children

What can it mean to divorce with children?

Going through a divorce is one of life’s most challenging periods, especially when children are involved. For children, parental separation can bring a world of change, uncertainty and emotional turbulence.

How can you approach divorce as a parent?

As a parent, it is important to approach this sensitive situation with great care, understanding and support to mitigate its impact on children.

What can be required of me as a parent?

Divorcing with children requires open communication, joint efforts to maintain stability and love, and strategies to manage the emotional well-being of both parents and children.

How can I tell my children about the divorce?

Informing children about divorce requires preparation, honesty and adapting the message to the child’s age to reduce anxiety. Key steps include planning a conversation with both parents present, reassuring them of the parents’ continued love, clarifying changes and constants in the child’s life, actively listening and answering questions, and offering support in dealing with emotions and changes.

How can children and young people react to divorce at different ages?

Young children may become more clingy and experience anxiety during separation, while preschoolers may feel guilty and wonder if they are the cause of the divorce. School-age children may show signs of sadness, anger and worry about changes in their daily lives. Teenagers may react with anger, rebellion or social withdrawal, and they may question their own relationships.

How can I deal with divorce with children?

Creating a stable foundation for children after divorce means maintaining open communication, collaborative parenting, and providing a stable environment, while ensuring parental love and managing adult conflicts away from children. Adapting the information and possibly seeking professional support, as well as introducing new traditions, can help the child adapt and feel safe through the change.

Should children be allowed to decide where they want to live?

The older the child gets, the more consideration should be given to the child’s views on issues such as housing. Decisions should always be made in the best interests of the child.

What is the best age for children to separate?

There is no ideal age for children to experience parental separation, as children’s reactions vary with age, maturity and support; what matters is how parents handle the separation, with open communication, stability, avoiding conflict in front of the child, and offering support, which can mitigate negative effects for children of all ages.

What is a child psychologist?

A child psychologist is a licensed professional with knowledge and experience in working for the well-being and mental health of children and parents.

What does a child psychologist do?

Child psychologists offer therapy and counseling, but also work with families in parental support and the whole family when needed. They also work with schools to create good conditions for the child.

Can I see a child psychologist online?

It is possible to have an online treatment via video. We have several child psychologists who work digitally at Lavendla.

Where can I turn if I or my child needs help from a child psychologist?

Depending on how old your child is, you can turn to different services, and you can also get help through parental counseling. At Lavendla, we have experienced child psychologists who can also help.

How does treatment with a child psychologist work?

Seeking help from a psychologist or therapist is an important step when a child is experiencing mental health difficulties or if you are having difficulties as a parent. Here is a brief overview of what treatment can look like:

First step: Initial consultation where the psychologist assesses needs through discussions with the child and parents.

Treatment plan: An individualised plan is developed, based on your specific situation and needs.

Types of therapy: Treatment method is adapted to the situation and may include play therapy for younger children, as well as talk therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for older children, which focuses on changing negative thought patterns and behaviors. Other methods such as couples therapy and family therapy can also be helpful in managing relationships and separation.

Parental counseling: Parents receive guidance and support to better help their child at home.

Monitoring and adjustment: The treatment plan is continuously evaluated and adjusted as needed to ensure the best possible outcome.

Working with a psychologist can give you and your child the tools they need to manage their emotions and behaviors in a healthy way. At Lavendla, we have psychologists and therapists who can help make the difficult easier.

Lavendla – Making the difficult easier

Written by Ellen Lindgren

Licensed psychologist

Ellen is a licensed psychologist and has experience mainly in clinical psychology where she has worked with various conditions such as stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, crises and trauma in primary care and psychiatry. She has also worked with research while studying in the US and with affective disorders and insomnia at Karolinska Institutet, Sweden.