Parental separation and divorce is increasingly common and inevitably impacts on all family members. Children, particularly young ones, can become frightened, confused and worried that they are somehow responsible.
Talking to your child about divorce and separation can be very difficult.
Here are some tips that you might find helpful when speaking with your child about your separation or divorce:
- Do not keep your impending separation a secret or let your child know just at the last minute.
- Sit down with your child and, ideally, with your partner, to let your child know together and answer any questions she might have.
- Keep the information simple and be sure to specifically tell your child that your relationship breakup is not her fault.
- Do not blame your partner or discuss each other’s faults with your child.
- Try to avoid arguments in front of your child. Research shows that children fare best in these challenging situations when their parents avoid conflict and commit to cooperating on behalf of their children.
- Acknowledge that this will be a difficult and upsetting time for all of you. You all feel sad that you will no longer be together as a couple and your child can come to both of you with her feelings if she’s finding this new change hard to adjust to.
- Reassure your child that even though you won’t be a couple, you and your partner will always be her parents. Your love for your child has not and will never change. Nor will your interest and involvement in your child’s life.
- Don’t lean on your child for help or comfort. You will need your own support through this challenging time and it’s important that you don’t add to the stress experienced by your child.
- Read books on this subject with your child which can help normalise her experience and bring comfort and understanding.
Children often find the separation of their parents difficult to adjust to. Sometimes this is reflected in children’s moods, sleep, appetite and behaviour.
If you or your child are struggling to cope with your separation or divorce, it’s best to seek professional help. When children learn early to cope with stressful situations, they can acquire helpful skills which will also serve them well in later life.
*For simplicity, children are referred to using feminine pronouns (‘she’/‘her’) in this article, although the information equally applies to boys.
Dr Kaylene Henderson is passionate about sharing practical, research based advice to help you feel more calm and confident while raising kind, resilient and socially and emotionally healthy children.
And here for the corresponding course series for early childhood professionals, Raising Good Kids: Managing Behaviour and Emotions in Early Childhood Care and Education Settings.