A separation can be a daunting and traumatic experience for adults. However, many couples going through a separation will also have children to consider. With Children's Mental Health Week taking place from 5th to 11th February 2024, we provide some tips to help children who are feeling the effects of a family separation.

Every child will respond differently to a separation. Reactions may even vary between siblings and according to age.

1. Put the child first

Regardless of the parents' feelings towards each other, it is important that the child's needs are prioritised. A child may feel torn between their parents and want to please them both. A good relationship between the child and each parent should be promoted, unless there are reasons why this cannot or should not be facilitated. When considering the amount of time a child should spend with each parent, the Scottish courts will treat the best interests of a child as being the paramount consideration.

2. Keep the child informed

It is up to parents to decide how and when they tell a child about the separation. The age of the child could impact on this decision and may inform the type of discussion that can be had with them. It may be helpful to plan the conversation in advance. Plenty of time should be set aside to enable the child to ask any questions. Children will require reassurance that they are still loved by their parents. They may have questions on how the separation will impact their life such as whether they will need to change schools, move house or stop seeing their friends. Any concerns the child has should be listened to and acknowledged appropriately, even if answers cannot immediately be provided.

3. Minimise conflict

Whilst it is important to keep a child informed of certain matters associated with the separation, parents should take care that the child is not exposed to adult discussions or witness conflict between their parents. Parents should avoid speaking negatively about the other parent whilst the child is in their care.

4. Consistency is key

It can help a child adjust to a new home life routine if important parts of their life remain consistent such as schooling, activities and seeing their extended families. Communication is required from both parents following a separation as to how contact arrangements with the child will operate. Parents also have a duty to consult with one another regarding major decisions in a child's life such as education, healthcare and introduction of new partners.

5. Seek help from professionals

If a child is showing signs of struggling with a separation, it is important that seeking help from professionals is considered by parents. This can involve a discussion with the child's school, doctor or a family counsellor. There are various services available to help children cope with a separation. For younger children, services may include art and play therapy, therefore age should not be a barrier to seeking support.


Joanne Hunter