Separating is a stressful time for everyone involved, but it is important as a parent to consider the impact on your children- here are some ways you can help.
1. Don’t place children in the middle
Adjusting to life after separation can be challenging for children and they may struggle with competing feelings of loyalty towards each parent. To minimise stress for children, parents should avoid pressurising them to decide on the arrangements for their care. Children need to be heard and to know that their thoughts and feelings count but should not be given the responsibility for decision making. Children will feel reassured if their parents are able to communicate respectfully when they are around.
2. Let children know what is happening
Children are very observant and may sense that something isn't right even before this is communicated to them. The withholding of information can lead to children feeling unsettled and worried so children should be told at an appropriate time about their parents' separation. The best option is for parents to sit down together with their children to explain what's happening without blame being placed on one parent for the family breakdown. Children will be reassured by information about practical plans like where they are going to live, how often they will spend time with each parent and to know that they can speak to either parent if anything is worrying them.
3. Maintain a routine
Whilst it may take time to establish a long-term pattern of care for children, it is important that children continue in their routine as far as possible following their parents' separation. Attendance at extra-curricular activities, spending time with friends and family should continue where possible. Children are less likely to feel that their whole lives are in turmoil if there is a familiar routine in place which will allow children to adapt to their new circumstances more quickly.
4. Minimise conflict
We recognise that not all parents are going to get along with one another following a separation. Regardless, parents should avoid expressing any negative views about the other parent in front of the children. Children are incredibly perceptive and may pick up on conflict between parents without this being expressly communicated. This can undermine their own confidence and ability to adapt to their new circumstances. Efforts should be made to speak positively about the other parent at all times, or if that is too ambitious, at least when in the presence of the children. Children need to feel free to talk about the other parent when they aren’t around. Children perceive denigration of a much-loved parent as denigration of themselves.
5. Seek professional support
Navigating a separation can be one of the most stressful experiences in an adult's (and indeed a child's life) and you may consider seeking professional support to assist you and your family through this process. There are a range of services available including family mediation which can help parents resolve any issues which are impacting children, such as a disagreement on care arrangements. A family mediator can help arm parents with the tools they need for effective communication and build a strong foundation for supporting children throughout their lives.