How to Support Your Child During Separation and Divorce

Irene Hislop

Irene Hislop

September 9, 2021

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The end of a relationship is hard on everyone, no matter how amicable it is. It isn’t unusual for parents going through separation and divorce to feel some guilt about how their split will impact their children. But you can do a lot to support your children during this transition.

Once the dust has settled, your new life can be full of positives for them. Unless there are safety concerns with your former partner, you might even find that you both parent better apart. Two happy parents living apart is better than two miserable, angry parents living together.

Parenting Through Separation and Divorce

Acknowledging Grief

Encourage your child to open up - Mykidstime

No matter what the circumstances, children experience some loss when their parents separate. That doesn’t mean it is healthy to stay together for their sake; recognising their grief process means you can support them through it.

At times, all of you might feel denial, anger, guilt and sadness. Your children might try to bargain in obvious and subtle ways. If they suddenly start behaving ‘perfectly’, cleaning their rooms, etc., they could be hoping it will save your marriage. Reassure them that the break-up is not their fault and it is an adult decision that they cannot change.

They may also lash out at one or both parents. While you shouldn’t start tolerating rude or cruel behaviour, remember not to take it personally. Encourage your child to talk about their feelings with you, your former partner or another trusted adult.

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What Children Need When Parents Separate

When parents go through separation and divorce, their children need many things, but the big ones can be grouped into four categories:

  • Information
  • Consistency
  • Protection
  • Self-expression

Information

Ideally, you can plan together exactly what you want to say to the kids. Then you can sit down with your children and announce your separation together in respectful, age-appropriate terms. Avoid getting into the details – it is enough to explain that you no longer love each other in the same way and would happier apart.

Remind them that you both still love them, and that parents and children can’t divorce each other. Younger children especially might need to hear that they will still be related to everyone on both sides of their family.

Give your children as much information as possible about what their new life will be like, but know they are likely to forget much of what you say. Tell them often where everyone will live and when anyone will move out of the family home.

Consistency

Mother and child talking (1)

Kids find comfort in their regular activities and social life. If you normally have pizza on a certain night of the week, continue that family tradition. Bedtime routines are always important, so prioritise continuing theirs. After the dust has settled a bit, you can develop new traditions to fit your new lives, but initially sticking to their normal routine will help them feel that the world is still a safe and predictable place.

Avoid the temptation to indulge them with extra toys or treats or to abandon household rules. Keeping to their regular chores, for example, is part of the consistency they need. Children can act out to test if the boundaries have changed. Showing them that you are still enforcing those boundaries actually comforts them.

Protection

Even the most mutually agreed, amiable separation and divorce can involve conflict. Protecting children from that is important. Avoid discussing any aspect of your divorce around them – the reasons for it, any legal proceedings or any disagreements.

Never use your children as messengers. Don’t ask them to tell or ask your ex anything for you. If you can’t speak to your ex directly, find an adult intermediary such as your solicitor or a friend.

Self-Expression

Children will have a lot of big feelings about this seismic change to their lives. It won’t always be easy to just listen without trying to talk them out of how they feel or cheer them up, but that’s what they need – to be heard. Trying to put a positive spin on things can make them feel that their feelings are not important or not acceptable. They need to know that their sadness, anger, confusion, etc. are normal and accepted and that they can ask questions.

Older children should have some say in visitation and custody arrangements, unless this would be unsafe. Listen to their concerns about how moving between two households could affect their activities and social life, and consider their thoughts about how to help them maintain their current routine.

Tips for Positive Co-Parenting

Successful co parenting tips

Like they say on airplanes, strap on your own oxygen mask first. It’s easier to grapple with the difficulties of co-parenting when your own needs are being met. And if your children are spending time with their other parent, that can often provide you with more time for yourself.

Developing a written parenting agreement with your ex might sound uptight, but it is a proactive way to manage potential conflict. Focus on what you agree about, such as some basic rules that apply in both homes. Include plans for what to do if your custody schedule needs to change on short notice. Who can mind the children? Try to agree some ground rules for introducing the kids to anyone either of you is dating. How long should you wait if the other parent fails to show up for a visit? It is a good idea to have a Plan B for something fun to do with the kids if they get stood up.

During the process of separation and divorce, and afterwards, always strive to be positive and united around the children. Don’t criticise each other in front of them. Asking your kids how their time with their other parent was is fine. It lets them know it is okay to talk about what they did. But avoid a lot of detailed questions so they don’t feel they are being cross-examined.

The process of ending a relationship and building new, separate lives can be painful for everyone. But the long-term outcome can be infinitely healthier and happier for both of you and for the children. Some divorced parents feel that their children get more of each of them because they both have some child-free time to focus on self-care.

How to Support Your Child During Separation and Divorce – Mykidstime

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Published On: September 9th, 2021 / Categories: For Parents, Lifestyle / Last Updated: September 13th, 2021 / Tags: , , /

About the Author: Irene Hislop

Irene is a former news reporter turned content writer with one tween son. She's also a crazy dog lady with a soft spot for cats and more experience officiating at goldfish funerals than she likes to admit.

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