How do I support my children to still thrive despite our separation?
Following a separation, there are often worries about how to help your children, especially the probable change of living arrangements and the upset this can bring to children being faced with the stark reality of their parents not being together anymore
Many parents are aware of the long-lasting effect that a separation can have on their children, right into their own adulthood, but this doesn’t mean that it is not the right thing to do, or that there are not things which can be done to help manage the impact on the children.
Remember, lots of people are now raised in single-parent families and go on to live some amazing lives! These are our top tips on helping your children continue to thrive through a separation:
Think about the routine day-to-day stuff
There will be some necessary changes which will need to take place following a separation, but where possible try and keep your children’s routine the same – whether you are the main carer for them or not. If they have clubs or regular visits to friends/family – try not to disrupt this routine too much, as having stability where it is possible, will help them understand that although other things have changed, not every aspect of their lives has or will now need to change.
Show them how important they are to you
It can be very confusing for children – if two adults can stop loving each other, can a parent also stop loving their child? This can be a real worry for children, and showing them that your change in relationship to their other parent does not affect yours with them, is really important.
This doesn’t mean buying them things, it means showing them that you love them. Tell them, often, that you love them. Ask them about what is going on with them and listen to what they say. Show them that they matter to you by spending quality time with them. Be on time when you are doing handovers between yourself and your ex, and don’t cancel plans with them unless it is absolutely unavoidable.
Don’t get them involved in your relationship with your ex
Don’t make them a messenger between you, or ask them to keep secrets from your ex. Just let your child focus on their relationship with you, rather than as a go-between.
Try to keep any interactions with your ex which they may witness (in person or even over the phone) as civil as possible. Seeing your conflict can cause them emotional trauma, so if you feel a situation is becoming hostile, bring it to an end and deal with it at a more appropriate time when they are not present.
Your children can’t and won’t understand what you are going through, so try not to involve them in the details. This doesn’t mean that you have to be super human, and you might find your feelings slip out now and again – don’t be too hard on yourself if it happens, it is ok to explain that you are a bit sad about the changes. But resist actively criticising or blaming your ex in front of them.
If you need to unload about what is happening, find an appropriate adult to do so with, and make sure that your child/children can’t hear you when you do.
Talk to them
Children are likely to need to revisit talking to you about the separation several times over. They will have new questions come to mind, so make sure you are there to answer them, so that they are not having to keep things bottled up.
Let them know it is ok to ask questions or want to talk to you about things at any point. Ask them how they are feeling about it all. Keep the conversation open.
Talking to them also lets you understand what is worrying them – which might be different from what you are expecting. They might worry about the ‘big’ things (like how often will get to see you both, what will happen at Christmas, etc) but they might also worry about the things like, who will take them to football practice, who will go to parents evening next week, can they still go to that birthday party next month. Remember that for children, the little things are often the big things, so make time to find out what’s on their mind so you can be aware too.
Get them a support network
Don’t feel the burden of having to be responsible for their well-being through these changes all on your own. Get support to help you, help them through it. The more people they have looking out for them, the better.
If your children are at nursery or school, talk to the staff there about the changes, so that they can also be aware of and support your child through what is happening. Sometimes children’s behaviour will change following a separation and understanding what might be causing it is really helpful for helping them work through it with your child.
If your child is having big difficulties with the change, and you are finding it difficult to support them to cope with it all, it could be useful to support them to see a child counsellor, or even go to family counselling with them. Getting them some extra support as early as possible could make a really big difference for them. A good starting point is to visit your GP to explain the situation, as they may be able to give you some information or a referral.