Close Close
Mother and Baby

Break Ups And Separation: What To Say To Your Child

Breaking up as parents is never easy, but talk to your toddler about it in the best way to help him deal with it

There’s no checklist when it comes to a break up, especially when there are kids involved.

It’s a process (often a long, heart-breaking one) for you all, and needs approaching as parents rather than just as an ex couple.

And even though your child may seem too young to understand the details, bringing the topic down to his level can help reassure him.

Do talk about it

Sit down with your toddler, but make sure you and your ex are on the same page.

‘Agree what you want to say beforehand so there’s no confusion,’ says Susanna Abse, Chief Executive of The Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships. ‘And have the talk somewhere low-key and familiar where your child feels comfortable.’

Keep it simple

Skip over-long explanations and focus on reassuring.

‘So, think about “Mummy and daddy are going to live somewhere different for a while because we’ve had some arguments, but we both love you very much”,’ says Susanna.

And it’s OK to tell him some things are for grown-ups and he’ll understand them better when he’s bigger.

Take a child’s perspective

A three year old isn’t going to be thinking about your relationship ins and outs. Right now, it’s more about his day-to-day.

A three year old isn’t going to be thinking about your relationship ins and outs. Right now, it’s more about his day-to-day

‘So, where he’ll sleep, whether daddy will have his favourite cereal, if he can take his cuddly rabbit with him,’ says Susanna.

‘Reassure him about the practicalities – so, tomorrow when he goes to daddy’s, he can pack his bag with his books and PJs, then you’ll take him there and pick him up in the morning.’

Understand his reasoning

It’s normal for a young child to create a story to make sense of what’s happening.

‘For example, he may’ve seen you argue once about mummy not putting the bin out, and so he puts things together and thinks that’s why you don’t live together anymore,’ says Susanna.

Or, he could worry it’s because he’s been naughty. ‘Again, keep it simple, reassure him that sometimes grown-ups have arguments but it’s in no way his fault and that you both love him.’

If he sees you upset…

You won’t be all smiles all the time right now – but don’t necessarily hide it if your child sees you crying.

‘Toddlers understand what it means to be upset, so give a manageable explanation like “Mummy’s sad because she and daddy are cross with each other, but we’ll feel better soon”,’ says Susanna.

Manage arguments

It’s tough, but avoid conflict around your child.

‘Children need to see some resolution to arguments, but that’s very difficult if you’re going through a separation, so be really conscious of keeping your disagreements away from him,’ says Susanna.

If you’re really struggling, get professional support – there are courses and advice services to help couples work through a break up.

What’s your experience of separating with a child? Let us know on the comments board below.

Related content:


No comments have been made yet.

Subscribe to Mother&Baby!

Be the best mum you can be and let Mother & Baby guide you along the way. Each issue is jam packed with REAL advice from mums just like you. Subscribe today & get a free welcome gift!

Win £1,000 of Carpetright vouchers
Win £1,000-worth of Carpetright vouchers!

Create a fantasy world on your floor with your baby for your chance to win £1,000-worth of Carpetright vouchers!

Win an Abeille cellular blanket from Hippychick
Win an Abeille cellular blanket from Hippychick

Abeille Cellular Blankets, available fromHippychick, are delectably soft, made from 100% cotton and now available in six super-stylish colours. Click for your chance to win!

Win a year’s supply of Blueiron liquid iron supplement
Win a year’s supply of Blueiron liquid iron supplement

Blueiron is Scandinavia’s fastest-growing liquid iron supplement and has already helped thousands of women low in iron during pregnancy, breastfeeding and those with intense fitness regimes. Click for your chance to win!

Win a bumper box of Kiddylicious Super Snacks
Win a bumper box of Kiddylicious Super Snacks

Made from quinoa, lentils and chickpeas, and packed with vegetable protein, Kiddylicious Super Snacks help to keep your little ones whizzing about. Click for your chance to win!

Ovulation Calculator
Ovulation calculator

Trying for a baby? Work out when you're most fertile to increase your chances of getting pregnant with our easy-to-use ovulation calculator.

Pregnant woman
Due Date Calculator

When is your baby due? If you’re having trouble remembering dates and counting up the days on your fingers and toes, don’t worry – use our due date calculator.

Get M&B in your inbox!

Sign up to Mother&Baby today and get news and advice about your body and your baby straight to your inbox every week.