Talking to your teenager about separation

Image of a teenage girl with a neutral expression listening to her mother talk.

This can help if you:

  • are going through a separation or divorce

  • are having trouble talking to your teen about separation or divorce

  • want to start a conversation about changes you've noticed in your teen’s behaviour since they realised the family is breaking up

How do I start the conversation?

Make a time when you know you won’t be interrupted – say, at night once the younger kids have gone to bed – so you can talk more freely. It’s also easier, and less intense, to talk about difficult topics when there’s less direct eye contact, such as when driving in the car or doing the dishes or another activity together.

Take some time to explore your teen’s worries, and brainstorm some ideas about what might help. Make sure you let them know that you understand, and that many other young people also feel like they do when their parents divorce.

Talking about: your teen’s role in it all

When you first speak to your teen about your separation or divorce, it could take some time for them to process what it means. They might think it’s somehow their fault, or that it means you don’t love them anymore.

Take this opportunity to reassure them that it’s not because of them, and that no matter what happens, you’ll be there to love and support them.

Talking about separation infographic part 1

Talking about: taking ‘sides’

Once your teen has processed what your separation means, they’ll be thinking: ‘What happens now? Do I have to choose?'

Choosing ‘sides’ is something that will come up at some point. For both you and your teen, this can be a difficult area to navigate. It’s common for teens to feel guilty about preferring to spend time with one parent over the other.

Talking about separation infographic part 2

Talking about: future relationships

Your teen might be thinking about what your separation means for the future. They could ask about relationships – both yours and their own.

It’s normal to wonder or be anxious about someone new entering the family. Since kids look to their parents to model what relationships look like, your teen could also think that what’s happening to you will also happen to them.

Talking about separation infographic part 3

Click here for a text version of the infographic above.

Things to remember

It’s up to you whether you want to talk to your teen with you ex-partner or separately. It might be worth chatting to your ex-partner about this beforehand. You could decide on what details to share, to avoid confusing your teen, and also agree to avoid bad-mouthing each other.

Your teen might also want to talk and ask questions a few different times, and that’s okay, too. Even if you need to repeat something you’ve already said, it helps your teen process their feelings. It’s all a chance for them to voice their worries and concerns.

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