Breaking up is hard to do, especially when children are involved. What's the best way to tell your kids when you and your spouse decide to divorce, and what questions should you anticipate?

First and foremost, deal with your emotions before talking to your kids, says Adrienne Dreher, a nationally certified counselor and owner of Alive! Counseling Services. "They need things to be cut-and-dry and about them — not you."

Call a Family Meeting

No matter what the maturity level of your children, share the news of your impending divorce as a family. After that, talk to each child individually to discuss their questions and fears. Most of all, reassure your children that they did nothing to cause the divorce.

Pre-School Children

"Keep it positive, yet realistic," Dreher says. Explain that you and your spouse will still be in their lives and don't talk negatively about the other parent. "Get out the calendar and help them count the days until they see each parent." Read books together, like The Way I Feel series by Cornelia Spelman, to help your child express and label her emotions.

School-Age Chldren

Define what divorce means, explaining that you will no longer be married and that you and your spouse will live in separate homes. "Reassure elementary age children by showing them your wedding album or pictures of when they were born so they know the divorce is not about them and they were made in love," Dreher says.

Adolescent Children

Avoid discussing the reasons behind the divorce. "It's okay to express to this age group, with limits, that you are sad that the marriage did not work out," Dreher says. Above all, do not bash or blame the other parent. "Focus on the positives of the other parent and highlight those strengths with your teenager."

Expect Grief

Children process divorce very much like a death in the family without the closure of a funeral. If your child's grief doesn't lessen over time or if he expresses a wish to die, seek help immediately. Children commonly express depression through irritability, acting out, disrespect and misbehavior at school and at home.

Manage Wishful Thinking

Many children harbor hopes (sometimes for years) of their parents getting back together. "It's very, very difficult for kids...to understand that's not going to happen," says Dr. Martye Barnard, a pediatric psychologist and chief of Behavioral Pediatrics at the University of Kansas Hospital. Gently remind them periodically that you and your ex won't be remarrying.

Questions to Anticipate

  • Does this mean Daddy (or Mommy) won't be living here anymore?
  • Will I see Daddy (or Mommy) anymore?
  • Does this mean we won't do things as a family anymore?
  • Did I do something wrong? (Your child may not express this concern out loud. Be aware that he may be wondering if he's to blame somehow.)

Source: Dr. Martye Barnard, The University of Kansas Hospital

Help Your Child Adjust

As soon as possible, coordinate living arrangements and decide how you will divide your parenting duties to create a sense of stability to help your children adjust to the new normal. If you can, delay dating for at least a year. If possible, continue attending school activities, parent-teacher conferences, and birthdays together. Also, avoid turning your child into the messenger between you and your former spouse. Send text messages or emails if there's too much anger to talk by phone.