Divorce and separation: putting children first

Children may show their distress in all sorts of ways:

  • Reactions like losing their temper, becoming moody, shouting, fighting, bullying, stealing, self-harming, substance misuse, and missing school are not unusual. Talking about the difficulties, giving them time and attention or praising them can all help.
  • Children often blame themselves for family break up, thinking that what they did or said was the reason a parent left. Make time to reassure your children that it was not their fault.
  • Sometimes children will focus all their anger on one or other parent, a brother or sister, or stepparent and blame them for the break up. Other adults around the family can help you and the children at this time – look to grandparents and other relatives and family friends.

At these times, children may want to talk to someone outside their circle of family and friends – a helpline or youth worker. This is a mature step to take, so let them know that you understand they cannot always tell you how they feel.

Remember...…whatever your own feelings, it is really important to put your children’s needs first. Don’t let them get caught up in conflicts and arguments.

Helping your child talk about their feelings

It is not always easy to get your child to speak about what they are feeling. But if your child bottles up their feelings, they may get angry or have mood swings. They can find it difficult to tell you that they’re upset or missing the other parent. Be patient and loving:
it may take time for them to talk.  Your child may want something that’s not possible, like you getting back together with your ex-partner.  It’s important that you explain to
them why this can’t happen.

Remember......it’s easier to help your child cope with being part of a separated family if you understand how they feel and what they need.

Tips on talking to and listening to children

  • Try to see things from your child’s point of view – sometimes when you’ve done this it becomes easier to understand their behaviour and point the way to dealing with it.
  • Give your child opportunities to tell you about their feelings, even if these are not easy to hear.
  • Get help and support for yourself if your child is telling you difficult and upsetting things.
  • Try to be honest and straightforward with your child – don’t make promises you can’t keep, or threats you won’t carry out.
  • Ask your child about their point of view on key decisions. They’ll value being listened to.
  • If you can’t do something their way, explain clearly why. It will help them understand.

Relatives matter

Your child needs to know that, even though their parents are separating, there are other relatives and loved ones that are still there for them.

Many children want to see their grandparents and other relatives after a split and when it is safe to do so. It helps them feel that there’s still some part of their old family life there. It also helps them to feel more secure.

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  1. Divorce and separation

Page last reviewed: 21/04/2022

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