Four steps to breaking the news of a separation to your child

When going through the difficult time of a separation, having children involved can become an emotional minefield. Aside from looking after yourself and powering through, you also need to make sure that the little ones don’t end up as your divorce’s collateral damage. More and more children are experiencing their parents separating, and the process can affect their wellbeing if it’s not handled sensitively to their needs. Here, are 4 key steps to consider when you have decided to separate or divorce and you need to break the news to your child. 

Show them love

Family break-ups can be a confusing and anxiety-inducing time for many children, so make sure you are there to give them lots of reassurance and emotional support during this time. Make sure they know how much you love them, and how you will always care for them, regardless of living situations. Spend quality time with them individually and let them know you are there for them if needed. Make it clear that they can be open and honest with you about their feelings. If your child is confused, they may find it difficult to express exactly how they feel, but as long as you lend a patient ear and try to answer all their questions with sensitivity, your emotional support will go a long way.

Stay civil

Much of your child’s wellbeing rests on how you conduct yourself in front of them. They should be protected from any adult issues, confrontations and arguments. You and the other parent should always make the effort to retain a positive relationship in front of them, leaving any arguments or adult discussions for when the children are not around. In addition, it is not a good idea to bad mouth the other parent to your children. Whether this is easy due to a mutual and amicable separation, or challenging because of an unexpected or bitter break-up, you as parents need to work together to ensure children are protected from any acrimony. If you feel that you need to ‘offload’ any difficult emotions you are processing, use a close family member or friend, not your children.

Avoid distancing the other parent

As much as you want to be there as emotional support for your child, the other parent will probably want to maintain their close relationship also. Let your child keep a close bond with each of you, and don’t make them feel guilty or disloyal for speaking to one or the other. Parental alienation is a huge issue in break-ups, where one parent’s ill-feeling towards the other can affect the child’s relationships with them. This is when a child is unfairly manipulated into disrespecting, fearing or feeling hostile towards a parent, and is legally recognised as a serious issue of abuse in family law.

Have a plan

Try to have a plan with the other parent in place before you tell the children of the separation. Have an idea of who the child will live with, how you plan to share their care, and what kind of routine they can expect. Try to keep disruption to their normal routine to a minimum, as children thrive with structure and it will help keep them feeling comfortable. Having a clear idea of future living arrangements will minimise anxieties, as they will know when and how often they will see both parents. There can sometimes be fears that they will no longer see a parent that they could have been very close to, so reassure them that this will not be the case. Also, be aware that older children may have their own ideas and preferences on living arrangements, listen to them and see how much you can comfortably accommodate.

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