How to help your child deal with the turmoil and distress caused by a family break-up…
A family break-up is never easy to deal with, especially for children who often experience a range of challenging emotions that can make it difficult to cope. Divorce or separation can set a whole wheel of emotions in motion: a sense of loss, grief, confusion, anxiety and sometimes guilt. Here are 10 ways you can help your child navigate the ups and downs of a family separation:
“You’re not to blame…”
Reassure your child that the breakdown of your relationship is not, and will never be, their fault. Many children experience a sense of guilt and blame themselves for the situation. If they’ve behaved badly lately, for example, which resulted in family tensions, they may wrongly think that this is the reason for the split. If you can, sit down with your estranged partner and present a united front to clearly deliver the message that anything that has gone wrong between the two of you is not the result of anything your child has said or done. It can help for children to know you both love them, even if you are separating.
Really listen when they tell you how they’re feeling and address any concerns they might have. Many children will feel fearful or unsure of the future because it feels as if their world has just been turned upside-down. Try to give reassurances where you can but don’t over promise on anything you can’t be sure you can keep.
“It’s OK to be upset…”
Let your child know that it is perfectly fine to be upset and it can be healthy to cry. Encouraging your child to be open and honest about their feelings and to come to you or your estranged partner when they feel overwhelmed with emotions.
“Same time next week?”
Do your absolute best to keep up consistency. Children can find it easier to adjust to a family breakdown when their usual routines remain in place. Keep up your usual activities where you can and work with your estranged partner to agree a schedule of sharing childcare. Stick to this arrangement as best as you can.
“Not in front of the kids…”
Shield your child from any tensions or arguments between you and your estranged partner to avoid increasing their anxieties and worries. Conflict is common in break-ups, especially in the early days when feelings are raw, and this can be damaging to a child.
“We’re still a family…”
Reassure your child that although your immediate family unit has changed, the situation will not affect their relationship with the wider family. Do your best to keep up a healthy relationship with your estranged partner’s side if you can. It’s important for your child to continue the same familiar relationships with their family members.
“Your opinion matters…”
Give your child a voice and let them know that their views matter. You might not agree with everything they say or be able to act on any of their suggestions, but they need to feel as if they have some sense of control in this situation, no matter how small.
“It’s OK, I understand your frustrations…”
Sometimes, your child might lash out or respond with anger and hostility. They may even ‘act out’ and behave badly. Try to provide love, support and guidance by letting your child know that while their behaviour is unacceptable, you can understand why they feel frustrated or angry. Talk to your child about different ways to control and cope with anger. Your child can read our I Feel So Angry All The Time and 10 Ways To Calm Down advice to learn more about coping techniques.
“You don’t have to take sides…”
Never ask your child to take sides or make them feel as if they are a messenger between you and your estranged partner. It’s an unfair burden to put on a child and can make them feel torn between the two people they love most in the world. Make sure to communicate with your estranged partner directly. Avoid badmouthing your ex or allowing others to talk negatively about them in front of your child.
“I need support, too…”
Absolutely make sure you have lots of support and help from family and friends. Your mental health is equally important and can be extremely fragile as you all come to terms with the separation and the changes to your lives. The added pressure of supporting children throughout this rocky period can make it even more stressful and challenging so it’s important to have the love and support of those nearest and dearest to you. For more advice on supporting children during divorce, click here.