Talking to children about separation

The decision to separate is a painful one for all concerned.

One of the most difficult things for parents to do is to tell the children. It is quite likely that they are aware that relations between mum and dad are not good.

However most children hope things will improve and would not want their parents to separate.

Once parents make the final decision to separate, they need to prepare the children for the enormous change in their family circumstances.

How you approach this subject will be informed by two factors: your child’s age and your individual circumstances.

A young child (two to three years ) will need some explanation of what is going on.

He will need simple, truthful, answers to his questions. His questions will probably revolve around the practicalities that affect him — who will collect him from child-minding, where will he be sleeping, etc.

Older children may have many questions, ranging from practical ones to more abstract ones, such as your intentions to remarry, what will happen to their friends if they move, etc.

Preparing to tell your children about your separation

• Decide in advance on who will tell the children about the separation, and make sure they do not overhear it from other people’s conversations. Ideally they should be able to hear it from both parents, but sometimes this is not possible. If you cannot tell them together, be sure you inform each other of what you have told them so that they get a consistent message from both of you.

• Be prepared to answer their questions about the new practical arrangements — where you will live, who will live with whom, how often they will see each parent, who will collect them from school, if moving when and where, how they will communicate with the other parent when they are not at home, etc.

• Your children are the innocent parties, but may not feel so. They may wonder if it is because of them that you are separating. You will need to make it clear that you are separating because you do not love each other and that you both love them as much as ever.

You will also need to make it clear that the separation has to do with your relationship and is not in any way due to them.

• Going through a separation is an emotional time for parents. It can be difficult to create an atmosphere in which your child can express his own emotions.

Having to deal with your child’s grief may feel like an impossibility.

Children will be aware of how their parents are feeling and may choose not to burden them with their upsets. However it is important that they express these strong emotions, so you should think about how you will help your child to do so.

Is there someone you would trust to become your child’s ally in this process if you are not able to cope?

• Consistency is vital for children. If there are changes in the messages they are receiving about the separation and if access arrangements are being frequently changed, this will lead to enormous stress. By making things consistent and constant this will enable the child to adapt more quickly to his new routines.

• You need to respect your child’s attachment and love for the other parent. A golden rule is that you should not belittle or give out about the other parent as it can be hurtful and confusing. In many circumstances parents can have valid grievances against each other. However these should not be aired in front of the children.

Expect a lot of questions, and be prepared for many upsets and tears. It is not uncommon for children to repeat questions, so do not get impatient — creating an atmosphere where your children know they can talk to you and you will listen is vital for your child at this difficult time.

For more information visit www.RollerCoaster.ie, Ireland’s no 1 website for parents.

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