The latest advice on helping children through divorce or separation
There’s no perfect way to talk to your children about your separation, but there are things you can do to make it easier on them...
We are now able to look at a great deal of evidence and research into what happens during a divorce or separation and we know a lot about how to minimise the impact - not just for couples but also their children.
The latest episode of Radio 4’s “Bringing Up Britain” series explored the challenges of parenting through the separation process and examined ways to communicate with and help manage the changes for kids. OnePlusOne’s Director, Penny Mansfield, was on the panel, along with other relationship and parenting experts.
The discussion focused on what can happen to children when their parents separate. The panel agreed there’s no ideal way to tell children but that keeping the focus on them is very important - keep thinking about them and try to remain neutral about your ex-partner. Saying something nasty about their mum or dad could really upset your child.
Getting support from other people around you was also advised – as Penny put it, “if you feel a need to bad-mouth, have someone you can bad-mouth to, whether it’s a friend or your sister…”
It’s also helpful to give children the facts in an honest but balanced way. Saying “I don’t know what’s going to happen” is truthful but you can also add “we are going to be all right” to give them a bit more hope.
Unsurprisingly, there’s also no ideal time to tell them. Older children, who are a little more independent can often adapt well, particularly if you stay responsive to their needs and consistent in their care. But for some, the sudden absence of a parent can make them incredibly sad and this sadness can be hard to share for the parent they live with. Acknowledge their feelings and allow them to say they are sad or angry without making a judgement on what you think they should be feeling by now. Let them deal with things at their own pace.
Having a parenting plan can be hugely helpful as a practical and positive step towards avoiding conflict. Some parents can get stuck on arrangements for visiting; for others it will be money. A parenting plan can help you keep the confusion organised and move forward with less conflict.
It’s also useful to remember that children grow up and their needs change. Your financial circumstance may change, new partners may come on the scene (or may already be there), and the parenting plan should be updated to reflect these changed needs.
When it comes to introducing a new partner to your children, you don’t have to go into detail. Make it clear that this isn’t someone you’ve just met, that this is somebody important to you and you’d like your children to meet them. But it’s up to the child to decide what they’re going to feel and how quickly they’re going to feel these things; respect your children and respect their feelings.
That’s an important message for any parent in this situation - listen to your children, take their feelings, and help absorb them. In doing these simple things, you are helping your child deal with the emotional impact of your separation.
This site, the ParentConnection, is OnePlusOne’s resource for parents who are either going through separation or who are struggling with issues associated with parenting after parting.
Other support web sites run by OnePlusOne include: the CoupleConnection, our ‘do it yourself’ relationship support service; and Splitting Up? Put Kids First, which helps you to create a free online parenting plan and learn the skills you need to make it work for you both.
If you'd like to listen to the episode of Bringing Up Britain, you can stream it on BBC iPlayer.