Navigating Divorce with Children

Navigating Divorce with Children


Parents going through a divorce often worry about their children’s well-being. A divorce is a significant change for everyone involved, and a child’s routine is often drastically disrupted in the early stages. This can lead to the child feeling out of control, worried and confused. As parents are trying to navigate this new phase of their lives, it’s important for them to prioritize their children’s feelings and sense of well-being. To help children deal with stress and minimize challenging behavior and situations: 


  • Tell the children as soon as the decision has been made. By not keeping it a secret, they have a chance to process the news and ask questions.
  • Keep the conversation simple, use age-appropriate language, and don’t assign blame.
  • Tell the truth. Acknowledge that it is sad when parents decide to separate, but that it will be better in the long run. 
  • Remind your children how much you and your partner love them.


Read this article from the AAP for tips on how to talk to your children about divorce.


Behavioral changes are common for children after first learning their parents are separating. For younger kids, the change may not appear until after the parents have separate living situations, while older children may show their distress soon after the news has been shared. If your child becomes more aggressive, uncooperative, or sad, be patient with them. They may have difficulty navigating their feelings and need time to adjust. While patience is vital in this situation, be sure to model the proper way to act and talk to them about any extreme and unacceptable behavior. If the change is severe or long-lasting, consider bringing a professional in to help them. 


The best way to help the children adjust to the new living situation is by creating a schedule and routine, so they know what to expect. The sooner you and your partner can agree on a solution, the quicker the transition period/process will be. If possible, we recommend allowing each parent to attend sports, school events, or other activities when they have the opportunity to do so. 


Do your best to communicate with your former partner, and keep the relationship civil. Avoid sharing negative thoughts and comments about the other parent, as this can negatively affect the relationships between your child and their parent. A working relationship with your ex can also minimize the child’s stress and help shorten the adjustment period with challenging behavior. 


Read this article from the AAP for information on how to support children after their parents separate or divorce.


Introducing new members to the family 

New relationships and marriages can change the child’s life and routine once again. While many kids adjust to divorce relatively quickly, adding new partners and potential step-siblings to the mix will present a new challenge. The age of the children involved will also play a big part in how quickly they accept new members. Babies, toddlers, and young children are often more accepting of new adults than older kids, and may even be excited about the opportunity to meet new people who can give them the attention they desire. Older children, ages 10 and up, may be less welcoming to new adults as they were more deeply attached to the prior family unit. Likewise, older kids prefer to make friends with kids around the same age.


When first introducing children to new partners and potential step-siblings, meet at a neutral location. Be sure to prep your kids about what’s to come and who they will meet. Plan the interaction to be casual and keep it short. Don’t expect the children and new partners to bond instantly; this can be a long process. 


Once the meet and greet are over, you will likely start planning more get-togethers involving partners and children. Aim to keep the first couple of meetings short and on neutral ground. Plan fun outings and activities to let everyone bond. While this is progressing, think of what you would like your child to call these new family members. Consider what your former partner feels; not everyone is comfortable with their child calling their step-parent mom or dad. Often, it is best to let the child call them by their first name or an appropriate nickname. The same rule applies when step-siblings are involved; it can take time for the kids to call each other siblings. It is not uncommon for them to refer to your partners’ kids as a stepbrother, bonus sister, or dad’s wife’s child. You can guide them in the direction you prefer, but ultimately it is a decision only they can make. 


Read this article from the AAP for helpful advice on dating after divorce.




Holidays can be a conflicting time for children of divorce. They might travel to spend time with a parent who lives farther away or be forced to go back and forth between homes. For older children and teens, travel plans can also cause conflicts with their need to socialize with friends and make decisions for themselves. Consider your teen’s personality and needs when planning the holidays. Work with the other parent and devise a plan that allows you both to spend time with the child if possible. Let your teen make decisions and control some aspects of the holiday planning whenever possible. Some families choose to alternate holidays, while others let one parent have the first half of the day, and the other gets the afternoon and evening. When deciding for your family, do what fits your needs the most. Consider distances, travel, and other logistics that will affect the quality of your time together.


While holidays are an excellent opportunity to meet with your new partner’s family and friends, too many new faces can be overwhelming for children of any age. If possible, introduce them to each other beforehand to minimize the pressure and maximize the chances of success. If it is not possible to introduce them before the holiday, allow the children to take breaks from big gatherings when needed. Younger kids may need time to play alone in a room or a chance to get your attention without interruptions for a while. Teenagers may be more interested in spending time alone in their room or getting away from the crowd with you to regroup. Each child has different needs, so do your best to accommodate them. 


Similar to how you want to let the child decide what to call your new partner, let them come up with appropriate nicknames for the new family members. If they prefer to use first names, let that be okay. Not everyone is comfortable calling new people grandma, uncle, or cousins. While you desire to make everyone feel included and part of the family, don’t force it upon your child.


The key to being a supportive parent during separation or divorce is to emphasize your child’s needs. Parents must work together to make the transition as easy as possible. Though your role as spouses has ended, your role as parents has not. Setting aside your differences and working collaboratively will ensure the healthiest and happiest outcome for your kids.


For more information on helping your children adjust to divorce, read this article from the AAP.