The separation or divorce of parents may mean dramatic family changes for children. One parent may depart the family home; routines may be disrupted. It may mean moving house and having to adjust to a new school and new friends.
Separation/divorce can also be a time of stress, uncertainty and conflict for parents. They may be feeling loss, grief, anger, depression and guilt. In addition to these negative emotions, there may be feelings of hope and relief if the relationship was difficult.
We know from research that separation/divorce, when not full of conflict actually has a limited impact on children. It is in fact the conflict, rather than the separation, that causes the most harmful outcomes.
Children often worry after a separation for themselves and their parents. Worries like ‘Will my mom and dad be ok?’ ‘Will I be able to see my mom/dad?’, ‘Will they be lonely?’, and ‘Was it my fault?’
Children may also feel anger, towards both parents… ‘Why did they let this happen?’ and perhaps at themselves, ‘Why could I not behave?’ ‘If I had behaved ‘better’ this wouldn’t have happened.’ Children often feel sad that their family is now changed forever.
What children need
Children thrive best in secure, affectionate environments. This means loving and attentive parents who put the needs of their child first, support the child through their feelings of sadness and anger and support their child to have a good relationship with the other parent.
What you can do
- Reassure your child…let them know they will always be loved by both parents and that it’s not their fault
- Keep life changes to a minimum…try to keep routines the same
- Talk and actively listen to your child…give them clear explanations that are appropriate for their age about what’s going on and listen to what they need to say
- Maintain your child’s support network…let them see family and friends as much as possible
- Try not to over compensate even if you feel guilty…children still need boundaries and consequences to feel safe. Instead of buying treats or toys, remember quality time with your child will provide far more reassurance
- Seek additional support. Let all significant adults (teachers, child minders, family members, trusted friends) know about the family changes so that they can be supportive for you and your child. Check if a peer support group, such as ‘Rainbows’ is available and make sure that you get support for yourself as well.