Children can experience a whole range of emotions when their parents break-up, from guilt and anger, to rejections and loss of self-esteem. Initially their behaviour may deteriorate, they may be less cooperative and find it hard to concentrate at school. Some children, particularly boys, may find it hard to express their feelings.
Children who experience conflict between their parents may fell their loyalties are being pulled in two directions. Seeing a parent distressed is tremendously upsetting and unsettling. And teenagers can take separations especially hard. At a time when they are struggling to find their own identity, losing the stability of family life may only add to their sense of confusion.
Once separations is inevitable, it's more often than not the father who leaves the family home. It's vital, however, for the sake of your child's happiness that she/he continues her/his relationship with him. Research highlights the huge impact a father's involvement in his child's life can have both on the child's emotional well-being and progress at school. If you find it hard to discuss these kinds of issues with your partner, outside mediation may help to avoid legal action, which is expensive, can drag on, and ultimately may not even sort matters out.
No one would wish for their child to have to experience the pain and disruption caused by separation and divorce, but by handling the situation carefully and sensitively it is possible to minimise the damage.
- Make a plan with your partner. Decide how you can continue to parent your children together, taking into account the need for flexibility. Discuss too keeping up contact with wider family as children shouldn't have to lose contact with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.
- Talk to your children through the process. Explain whats happening. Why its not their fault. Separation can affect children's confidence, so continual reassurance is important.
- Encourage your children to discuss their feelings too - but don't force them - and accept their feelings.
- Reassure your children that you can cope. Children only feel safe and secure when they sense that their parents are in control, and they don't need to worry.
- Don't poison your children against your ex. They need to be free to love him/her, without feeling that they'll be letting you down.
- If you start a new relationship, you may well face hostility from your children. This is normal. They need time to adjust so take it gradually. Once they can see that you are happy and that their relationship with you isn't being affected, they will come to accept the idea.