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Children and Separation a Guide for Parents - Parent Connection

Tags: What about the children? checklist for separating couples, checklist, communication, communicating with your ex, separating couples, couples separating
Content Types: Tips and Advice
Categories: Separating

Knowing how to deal with the practical issues of separation such as dividing assets, sorting out new living arrangements and child support, can help your life run more smoothly at this difficult time.

Separate your concerns from your children's. Try to remember that your children's experience of your ex-partner is different from yours. Trying hard to focus on each of your strengths as partners and your love for your child can help you build a new parenting partnership.

Communicating with your ex

  • Avoid blaming yourself or your partner
  • Agree not to let your own relationship issues get into the discussion
  • Create some rules together about how best to manage meetings
  • Continue at another time if you feel discussions sliding into tricky waters
  • Don't communicate with your partner through your child
  • Focus on child-related issues; it can help keep your dialogue clear and to the point
  • Work on a parenting plan together

When you can't see eye to eye

Some conflict or disagreement is inevitable, but if you find that you can't see eye to eye, or if you're worried about yours or your child's well-being, you could benefit from the help of a third party.

This doesn't have to mean going through the courts. Family mediation could help you to negotiate your decisions and communicate better with your ex. A trained mediator's job is to act as an impartial third party, helping you to exchange information, ideas and feelings constructively.

Deciding on the best service for you depends on the main unresolved issues: mediation can help deal with finance, separation and children, whereas conciliation (provided by some family courts) deals with issues relating to children.

More information about how family mediation works is available.

Coping with your child's reactions

Children react to separation and divorce in lots of ways. They may feel partly responsible, they may grieve for what they and their parents have lost, they may feel relieved, and they may feel anger and confusion at what was unthinkable to them.

Depending on their age, children show their distress differently. Babies and young children may become clingy or have trouble sleeping. Older children may get very angry, have trouble playing or getting on with their friends, or might side with one parent over the other.

Children need time and help to adapt. Most children will have some difficulty coming to terms with their new family life. A few may have long-term difficulties that can lead to various emotional and behavioural problems.

Many parents end up distracted and upset during separation and find it hard to give their child the support they need. If you need help for yourself or in supporting your child, call on a friend, health professional or counsellor. A sympathetic ear and reassurance that you're doing the best for your child can make life more manageable. Grandparents and other relatives can also be important in supporting you and your child at a very difficult time.

Taking time to talk and listen

Children can usually sense problems (even if they can't hear them) and will often think the worst, such as believing they are to blame for the separation. Telling them about what's going on can help them to make some sense of the situation.

Listening to what children want future arrangements to be like, whilst reassuring them that they're not responsible for making final decisions, will help them to feel that their views are important but that they are not expected to have to choose between parents.

You can help children feel more secure by helping them to express their feelings, letting them know that you understand how they feel, and making sure they feel they can ask questions if they want help.

Children often feel a great sense of loss and letting them grieve is an important part of helping them to deal with the situation and to move on and accept the changes in their family relationships.

Children may also express anger towards you, and this is all part of the process. Try not to take this too personally.

A child will naturally have hopes and fantasies about the family, such as wanting you all to be reunited. Talking about these feelings, without raising false hopes, will help your child to move on.

Be reassuring

Children often feel they've done something wrong and that they are to blame for the break up. They can be reassured by hearing that they're not responsible and that, although the situation may be painful and difficult right now, you want to make things better for the future.

Children are often afraid that if their parents loved each other before and now don't, they might stop loving them too. This fear can increase if there is a new partner or new children. Children feel more secure if they are reassured again and again that they are loved, and that although you and your partner feel differently about each other, you will continue to love and take care of them.

Protecting them from your problems

Children need to feel happy about enjoying the time they spend with their other parent. This can be hard, as they are often aware of the difficulties you are having. You can help them do this by avoiding making them feel that they should take sides and reassuring them that it's okay to love the parent who has left.

Hearing you criticise or blame the other parent can be extremely distressing for children. Avoid doing this in front of them so they don't feel burdened by information and details that they don't need to hear.

To help your child to not feel guilty and responsible for the separation, it's especially important to avoid arguing about them in front of them.

Keeping stability and a routine

Sticking to a daily routine can help to keep other aspects of life stable.

If possible, it might be best to wait before making any other big changes, like moving house or school, to avoid any further emotional and practical disruption.

Encouraging children to see their friends, and keep up with hobbies or other activities, can help them keep some continuity in their lives. Some children may feel guilty about doing normal things and having fun - they may need genuine encouragement as some children may feel they need permission.

Children tend to do best when they are in a stable, predictable environment, and need to know that there are limits (limits they will sometimes test!). Being consistent can help a child to work through things more clearly. For example, it will help if you and your ex-partner agree about discipline and are consistent in what you actually do.

Accepting support from others

Finding people you can talk to and making sure that you feel supported will help you support your children better. It will also help avoid burdening your child with your emotional distress by confiding in them or relying on them for support.

Children benefit from other people's support, too. Grandparents can be an important support to both you and your child. Research shows many children say they confide in their grandparents when they are worried. If teachers and other important adults in your child's life know about the separation, they can be more sensitive to your child.

Does contact matter?

Most children want contact with both their parents and to carry on seeing both of them as part of their family. Keeping in contact with the parent who has left home reassures a child that, although life will be different, they are not losing one of their parents.

The pain of separation and change can be worse if they also lose touch with others they are close to. So keeping in touch with other family members (who may also be able to offer extra support) can help a child adjust to new family arrangements.

It's the quality of parenting during contact time that matters most, not the amount of contact. Effective parenting, showing an interest, encouragement, love and warmth, is what counts.

There are situations, however, where contact may be damaging. For example, where there is no previous relationship or where there are known risks of abuse or neglect, domestic violence, or extreme conflict between the parents.

Follow this link for further information on separating tips and advice

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