How To Explain Divorce To a 5-Year-Old

All children want their family to be together. But when things just don’t work out, how do you break the news gently – especially to a young child?


Parents can try hard to work their personal issues out; however, it’s not always that easy. Sometimes people either grow apart or something happened in the marriage that is unforgettable.

The children are the ones who feel the emotional toll the most in a situation like this. How do you explain to your 5-year-old child that mommy and daddy are getting a divorce?

Only Explain What they Need to Know

It’s not ideal to bash the other parent, no matter who did wrong. The only thing your child needs to know and will be genuinely curious about is how this situation will affect their lives.

They are likely going to wonder who they will live with, if they will need to switch schools, and other questions – so be prepared to answer.

Be Sure it’s the Right Time

Until you and your spouse are 100% sure that a divorce is what you both want, keep it to yourselves. Once you both decide a divorce is the only solution, that’s when you can consider a time to tell your child.

It’s only going to confuse your child if you tell them that “mommy and daddy are considering a divorce.”  There’s never a “good” time to tell a child their parents are getting a divorce. However, consider a time when you will all be home together, in no hurry to go anywhere else.

For example, you will want to refrain from telling your child before school, on the way to a sports game, or even before bed.

Bottle Up Your Differences and Do it Together

You and your spouse have your own personal issues – that’s why you’re going to get a divorce. However, you need to set those differences aside as you talk to your child.

It’s hard enough for a 5-year-old when he or she hears mom and dad won’t be living under the same roof anymore. If your child can see you getting along and discussing this in a calm way, it will be much easier.

It’s wise to plan your discussion with your spouse ahead of time so there is nothing that will be said that may spark an argument.

Show How Much You Love Them

A young child is going to need to hear how much his or her mom and dad still love them unconditionally. No matter if parents are in the same house, the child must know he or she will be loved just the same, according to Dr. Robert Ludwig Psy.D.

Explain that Divorces Happen in Other Families, Too

As soon as you and your spouse make a final agreement and plan a day for one of you to move out, it’s best to give your child two weeks ahead of time. Kids need at least two weeks notice to process this type of information, says Shirley Thomas, a child psychologist, “and be sure to remind your children how involved each parent will be in their life.”

What The Experts Say

“Many children carry the battle scars of divorce well into adulthood. But broken-up spouses can help stop the damage by managing their own behavior before the ink dries on the divorce papers.”

Gary Neuman, LMHC, Family and Divorce Expert


“If the marriage is tumultuous, divorce can be a relief to the kids. If a parent is abusive (physically and/or emotionally), has a substance abuse problem or causes constant chaos within the home environment, children often benefit from the separation.”

Dr. Ruth Peters, PhD.


“Three 10-minute conversations are more effective than one half-hour talk.

Shirley Thomas, child psychologist


“Children need to understand that they did not cause the divorce, and have their questions answered honestly, at their level of understanding.”

Dr. Michael Yogman
Heather Burdo

Heather is a freelance writer from New York. She has a passion for health and parenting. Heather has written for the Gluten-Free Living magazine,, Project Eve Moms, and others.

About The Toddle

We’re a media company helping parents get clearer answers to questions about raising smart, healthy kids. Get in touch to learn more about our mission.

7119 E Shea Blvd #109-176, Scottsdale, AZ 85254
(623) 226-8142