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Talking to children when your relationship breaks down

Feb 16, 2021: 

One of our amazing Trusted Partners Dr Charlotte Harkness has written a fantastic blog post for us this week on the subject of conversations with children when relationships break down. 

This is a very difficult area, and one that we are often asked about.  Charlotte’s blog helps parents to talk to their children about this difficult subject openly and mindfully, in a way that both child and parent can manage.


Words matter. The old adage that sticks and stones are more damaging simply isn’t true. The words that you choose and the attitude that you take will have an impact on how your children will deal with the inevitable disruption and loss that comes with separation and family change. It begins with you. It’s incredibly difficult to set aside hurt and anger at times of conflict, but the more that you are able to do just that when you talk to your children, the more that your child or children will benefit.

  • Start by thinking about the kind of parent that you want to be for your child and how you want to communicate with them and try and shift your focus away from what you feel about your partner. What are your own values and how can you embody these in your communication? The temptation to put your side across to your children, or to apportion blame might be strong, but resist it as much as you can. Your child will likely have an ongoing relationship with their other parent and it matters to their well-being and identity that they maintain respect and love for both of you.


  • When you do talk, be as age appropriate as possible. Think about what your child needs to know and don’t overburden them. They might need to know that you are separating and that one of you is moving out, and that it is sad. They do not need to know the tiny details about the circumstances that lead to that decision. We all like to think that we always put the needs of our children first, but rage and hurt can too often drag us away from the best of intentions.


  • Don’t name call and try and keep communication simple and to the point. The breakdown of your relationship might feel overwhelming and all-consuming for you, but limiting the amount of energy and time it takes up of your children is really important. Let them know that they can talk to you, but be led by them, rather than your own needs. Children can be extremely supportive, but at times of turbulence remember that they may frightened, overwhelmed, confused and unable to make sense of what is going on. The example that you set them is crucial and will be with them as they emerge into adulthood and into their own intimate relationship, so realise how much you and what you say matters. And if you feel you’ve said something that didn’t feel appropriate, or that was a step too far, own it and explain that you’re sorry. We can’t always choose what happens in our relationships and how they evolve, but we can choose how we respond and where we place our energy. Your children deserve it.


Dr Charlotte Harkness and The Modern Family Law Company are available to support you and your family with your mental health and legal needs.  Click the links below to get in contact with us:

Dr Charlotte Harkness

The Modern Family Law Company

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