The Importance of not Burdening Children
Parents instinctively want to protect their children from the harmful effects of relationship breakdown. Here is a quick guide to the most important things you can do as a parent to make sure that your children come through well adjusted and unharmed by the experience:
Explain what’s happening
A surprising number of parents think they are protecting their children by not talking about what’s happening in the family. Children will be less anxious about the future if they know that they are being included and are receiving clear explanations of the things that will affect them. Children need to understand what is happening but they do not need details of what went wrong. An explanation along the lines of you no longer being able to make each other happy is often enough. You can tell them how sad you feel but reassure them that they are still loved and that you will both always be there for them.
Tell them it’s not their fault
This is so obvious that parents sometimes don’t realize the importance of reassuring children of this. Young children in particular are at risk of believing that if they hadn’t been naughty, Mum and Dad would still be together.
Listen to your children and allow them to express their feelings
Just like adults, children need to get used to the realities of what’s happening. Every day they may have a different worry or question. Check regularly how they are and let them know you understand if they’re feeling angry, sad, hurt or worried. Some children find that doing nice, ordinary activities with a trusted adult such as a grandparent, gives them a much needed break from the upheaval in their family and another outlet for their feelings.
Be the adults so the children can be children
With all the changes going on it’s easy for children to get drawn into an adult world – complicated relationships, finances and mistrust. Children, even mature teenagers, don’t have the knowledge or life experiences to help them make sense of it. In fact, most adults struggle with it too. Try to protect the children from this worry so that they can be themselves. In the same way, don’t look to your children for emotional support. Children even much older teenagers want you to be their parent – they don’t want to be your friend or confidant.
Avoid blaming and negative comments about the other parent
Children identify with both parents so hearing hurtful things about either of you hurts them too. If you feel the other parent is wrong it’s tempting to try to get your children to side with you. Sadly, it can make children feel they have to chose when in fact they need and love both parents. Whether it’s justified or not children idolise their parents just because they’re mum and dad. Hard as it may be don’t attempt to knock the other parent off their pedestal!
Get help for yourself
Don’t feel that you have to struggle alone if you are feeling overwhelmed. Ask for help from friends, family or professionals. Not only are you helping yourself but also your children. Children worry if they see parents crying or upset and they may be drawn in to taking over the caring role. Find a private place to let your emotions go or better still wait until the children are out of the house.
Create a parenting time plan
Having a consistent routine for spending time with both parents reassures children that they are still loved and wanted. Make sure the children feel that they have their own space in both homes, even if they don’t have their own room make sure that they have a cupboard or a shelf that’s theirs.
Keep the bigger family and friends in the picture
It can be hard to encourage your children to maintain bonds with people that you no longer have contact with. But keeping connected to relationships within the wider family and social network gives children a sense of security. If you can manage to do this, your children will learn that not everything needs to change because of your separation.
Click here to listen to what some children have said about their parents breaking up.
Follow this link for further information on tips and advice for after separation