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Help for separating parents
This is a worrying time for you as well as for your children. Here are some guidelines to help you help your children while you are facing separation or divorce.
What should I tell my children about their parents separating?
Four golden rules:
1. It is not their fault
Many children believe it is their fault you are splitting up. Tell them it is not their fault, and keep telling them. This is particularly important with younger children who live in a world that is part reality and part fantasy. It is easy for young children to believe that the breakup is their fault and that they can stop it be wishing hard enough.
2. Tell them what is happening
Children need to know what is happening and how they will be affected by your separation. Relationship breakdown is hard on everyone in the family. The difference with children is they have no power over what is going on. They need to know what is happening in their family. Children need to hear age-appropriate reasons for your separation/divorce. This includes specific details about the time they will be spending with those they love – both of you, their grandparents, babysitters and even a pet. They do not need to hear about your anger or your blame. Children need to know that both their parents love them and will continue to care for them.
3. Listen to your children
One of the greatest problems for children when their parents split up is accepting a situation and new arrangements they feel they have no say in. Children want to be consulted about decisions affecting them and they want to be listened to. Be prepared for various forms of the question “why?” Simply acknowledging young children’s sadness, anger, frustration or whatever they feel can go a long way towards helping them accept the many changes in their lives. However they do not want to have the ultimate responsibility for decision making. Children understand fairness and the difference between giving input and making decisions. Some children may not want to be included in your decision making.
Children need the chance to ask questions and talk about their feelings but they may not always be ready to talk about them when you are. Give them many opportunities for talks with you. Ask children for input when you are not sure how to handle a situation. You don’t have to act on their suggestions but it may provide some insights. But don’t ask. “Where do you want to live with?”
4. Don’t fight in front of them
Children are most distressed when the fight is about them. Fighting in front of the children, or saying hurtful things about the partner you are splitting up from, hurts them. When you put each other down you put your children down as well. Remember your conflict can by very damaging to your children. Children do not want to take side.
A child’s list of wants
What I need from my mum and dad:
- I need both of you to stay involved in my life. Please write letters, make phone calls, and ask me lots of questions. When you don’t stay involved, I feel like I’m not important and that you don’t really love me.
- Please stop fighting and work hard to get along with each other. Try to agree on matters related to me. When you fight about me, I think that I did something wrong and I feel guilty.
- I want to love you both and enjoy the time that I spend with each of you. Please support me and the time that I spend with each of you. If you act jealous or upset, I feel like I need to take sides and love one parent more than the other.
- Please communicate directly with my other parent so that I don’t have to carry messages back and forth.
- When talking about my other parent, please say only nice things, or don’t say anything at all. When you say mean, unkind things about my other parent, I feel like you are expecting me to take your side.
- Please remember that I want both of you to be a part of my life. I count on my mum and dad to raise me, to teach me what is important, and to help me when I have problems.