We know how concerned separating parents can be about their kids' feelings. It's a tricky time when the family changes its form but with some thought and planning, the effect on the children can be reduced. This might sound impossible, especially if you are in the middle of an emotional upheaval, but help is available.

Some Relate centres provide a service called Relate for Parents - you can check to see if this is available in your area. This is a special, one hour, one off information and advice-giving session for parents who may have already separated or who are about to. Children do not attend but they are the main focus and their needs are central to the session. You will be given age-related information and advice about what and when to tell the children. Hand-outs are also provided which can help the children to express their feelings and ask questions.

You can also find information and practical exercises at What next?, our parents' guide to separation.

Reducing stress for the children

Research has been carried out into the factors connected with reducing stress for children at the time of divorce.

These tips might help you:

  • Children will be better able to cope if their parents can be seen to share the responsibility for their welfare. So, telling them together about when and what is going to happen will show to them that you can still be Mum and Dad even though you're not together as a couple any more.
  • While you want to be open and honest with the children, try to keep in mind what they can cope with at their different ages. They do not need to know every single detail about what has gone wrong, nor should they be involved in any conflict between you and your partner.
  • Try to keep as normal a routine as possible going. When the routine has to change, introduce the changes as slowly as you can and talk them through with the children.
  • Remind them that you will always be their parents even though you may not wish to be a couple any longer
  • Reassure them that it's not their fault that you have decided to separate - this is between the two of you.
  • Do everything you can to help yourselves adjust to your new situation, especially if you are the parent with residence.
  • Reassure them that you have decided to separate from each other but not from them; you are still their parents. Do not put them in a position where they have to choose between you.

Children's reactions

The way a child responds to the new situation will vary according to his or her age, gender and personality type, some ways of coping are obvious, others less so.

Here are a few signs to give you an idea.

  • Changes in the way they are at school - a teacher may be concerned and let you know about these.
  • Younger children may regress - sleeplessness may be a problem and bed wetting too.
  • Depression and sadness. Older children seem to be coping well but may very well be concealing their true feelings as they want to protect their parents.
  • A child may change role and become a brother or sister to the parent.
  • Adolescents may rebel in a worrying way, which gives cause for concern.

How we can help

Thousands of people come to Relate every year for help with separation and divorce. We help all sorts of people in all sorts of situations, and we can help you. 

Find out more:

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