Sunday 15 August 2021

Helping Children Deal with Divorce and Separation

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Whilst we all hope to be with our partners for life, sometimes things just don't work out and for whatever reason people will need to separate or file for a divorce. Divorce and separation from a long term partner is never easy for anyone involved. There will be a lot of emotions and questions about the situations for everyone involved, but for children, parents separating can be a particularly difficult situation to deal with. They will likely have lots of questions and emotions around the situation and it is only natural for you to be concerned about how they will cope with the changes and the effect it may have on them. 

Ultimately the decision to separate or divorce has to be between the adults in the relationship, we hear it all the time but you cannot stay with someone you no longer love or wish to be with "just for the kids!" it rarely works and usually leads to unhappiness for everyone involved. However this doesn't mean separation or divorce is easy and supporting your children through the process will be even harder to do whilst you are dealing with your own emotions and adapting to the situation yourself. 

Everyone will need time

Break ups are hard and there are a lot of changes that are going to happen, before you throw on that brave parenting face and try to answer all the questions give yourself time. Time to process everything yourself because at the beginning you may not even have all of the answers yourself. The kids will also need time too, it will take everyone time to adapt to the changes and new arrangements and things may seem a bit strange for a while. But it is important that everyone effected gets the time and space they need to process their feelings and adapt in their own time. 

During this time reinforce that they can talk to you and that you are there to listen, reinforce just how much they are loved by both parents and try to keep routines as set as possible. Whilst sticking to routines may be hard when you are feeling low, keeping to set routines can really help children in day to day life and will help keep things feeling familiar for children. 

Be as honest and open as you can

As parents we always try our best to shield our children from any hurt, worry or upset but sometimes hiding the truth can actually do more harm. Of course I don't mean go into all the ins and out's of why you may be separating or getting a divorce. But be honest about the fact you are separating and how things may look different in the future. It is ok to tell your children you are feeling sad, expressing your feelings can help them to express theirs too. But being honest will also help and will avoid any more awkward or hard to answer questions further down the line or as they get older. 

Once you are certain of the divorce and plans, this is the time to break the news to children. How much you discuss with them should be based on age and maturity but try to be honest and ready to answer any questions they may have. If both parents are able to be there for this discussion this can really help as both parents can reassure emotionally children, however this obviously isn't always possible. Be prepared for the questions which may follow such as "where will I live?", "Will I have to move?" and of course "why?".

Give your kids as much information as you think they need to know, let them know they can talk to either of you and ask any questions or express and worries and concerns. If you can try to ensure that both parents are on the same page when it comes to explaining things to your children to avoid any confusion, but remember not to encourage kids to take sides, bad mouth the other person or share any negative thoughts you may have about your partner.  It won't help and may cause children even more stress and worry about them needing to take sides. 

Not partners... but a parenting team

Following on from what I mentioned above about being on the same page, when kids are involved it isn't as simple as just being able to walk away from each other. So with this in mind, even though you may not feel like it at the beginning, if you are able to be civil and co-parent this can really benefit how children cope with the separation. For many this will of course take time, it is a completely new change from partners to co-parenting but if you can make it work it will not only benefit the children but you too. 

It will mean children can see both parents working together in a healthy parenting relationship plus it will make making any plans and arrangements much easier for everyone if you can discuss this together. Whilst there may still be some tensions or tough discussions between separated partners try to keep any heated discussions, arguing, shouting or unkind exchanges behind closed doors, these will only increase children's anxiety and stress around the situation and could set everyone back. 

Finally and importantly get help and support, for the kids of course but also for you. This could be in the shape of family and friends or even a support group. The important thing is that you have a space that you feel safe to talk, discuss your feelings and emotions and get the help and support when you need it. If you or your children are struggling to adapt to changes or need some further support there are some fantastic therapists who can really help either through individual or family sessions. 

If you or someone you know if struggling with anything mentioned above there is lots more great information, advice and some handy numbers via the NSPCC website


**This is a collaborative post**

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