It may help your teenage child cope with your separation better if you:
Take a shared parenting approach
This means continuing your joint role as parents, sharing the responsibility as equally as possible from the time of separation.
As soon as you stop living together you need a plan so that your children keep seeing both of you.
Make this your first priority.
- Keep it separate from the other things you need to sort out later, like custody, money and property.
- Agree on an initial plan and talk to your teenager about it.
- A more long-term plan can be worked out later.
Develop a ‘parenting plan’
This is a written document that sets out how you will jointly care for your teenager. It includes how you will make decisions about them, share responsibilities and time with them, and how you will deal with the difficulties that arise. You can develop a parenting plan by sitting down together and working it out or with the help of trained family mediators, or solicitors who have trained in a ‘collaborative law’ approach.
Put their interests first
When faced with decisions it can help to put yourself in your teenager’s shoes and ask yourself ‘what’s really best for them?’ This approach might help you both to be co-operative, flexible and more open to compromising when it’s in your teenager’s interests.
For example, when planning a visiting schedule, it is the quality of contact, rather than the quantity, that matters most. Also, children and teenagers have different needs at different stages in their lives, which may mean that day-to-day care and visiting arrangements may need to be reviewed over time for their benefit.
In situations of abuse or violence, your teenage child should not be placed in a situation where they are likely to be at risk. Any contact arrangements with your former partner must ensure that they will be safe and protected. This may mean that in certain situations contact is independently supervised.
Don’t involve your teenager in adult conflicts
Before separation, arguing and hostility between parents is very difficult and upsetting for children. After separation, conflict is just as damaging and will make it harder for your teenager to have a close relationship with their non-resident parent.
Remember, your future relationship with your children can be damaged if you speak negatively about their other parent.
Support their relationships with both parents
This means respecting your teenager’s relationship with your former partner. In situations where their other parent has a partner, this may mean learning to respect your teenager’s decision to develop a relationship with this person.
You can Support your teenager’s well-being during your separation by;
Be reassuring and optimistic
Continually reinforce the messages to your teenage child that: You love them and that you will be there for them throughout this difficult process of family change The separation is not their fault Separation is very common Things will get better over time
Keep changes to a minimum
Maintain as much continuity and routine as possible in your teenager’s life. Ensure stability by ensuring they keep up friendships, attend school and carry on with their usual hobbies, interests and activities. Sticking to the arrangements you have made is also important.
Do everything you can to increase your teenager’s self-esteem through praise, encouragement and achievement. A secure teenager with a positive self-image will cope better.
Talk and actively listen
Keep your teenage child informed about what is happening and why. Ask for their views about decisions that affect them.
Support relationships within the wider family
Actively encourage your teenager’s connections with family members, on both sides of the family, whose relationship with your child is positive and beneficial.
Try not to over-compensate
Resist the temptation to make up for your teenage child’s loss with material things, food treats or lack of discipline in the home. Emotional hurt is best healed with care, support and consistency in parenting, not things.
Avail of a peer support programme
Encourage your teenage child’s participation in a local peer support programme. Teenagers benefit from the opportunity to meet others who have had similar experiences, reducing feelings of isolation or of ‘being different’.
Get additional support
Let all significant adults in your teenager’s life know about the family changes so that they can be a source of support for your child, for example a teacher, school guidance counsellor, sports coach, family members or trusted friends.
“This information is taken from the Parenting Positively series, a series of booklets by Barnardos that provides information and guidance to parents of children between the ages of 6 and 12. The aim is to help to create a positive, loving and supportive relationship between you and your child. Please see www.barnardos.ie for further details”. To see the full Parenting Positive Booklet click here.