How to talk to your kids / children about separation
Making the decision to separate in a relationship is never an easy one to make. It comes with a host of emotions, thoughts, complications and heartache. But what happens when you add children or step children into the mix? Our article Split Decision will hopefully guide and give you a little bit of clarity during this difficult time.
Having to have these difficult conversations with children fills most parents with a sense of dread which often would rather be avoided.
How will our children react?
How do break it to them gently so that they understand?
Are they old enough to understand the situation?
How will this impact them psychologically?
These tips may offer some guidance about how to talk to your children to make these situations more manageable.
1. Plan what you are going to say
Really sit down and think about what you are going to say. It may seem like planning a military operation but taking that time together to discuss how you will tackle the conversation would be beneficial The conversation may not seem easy but taking a proactive stance together demonstrates support. Use age appropriate language to help your child or children feel more safe and secure. Keep it simple so that it does not become over complicated.
2. Both parents need to be present
Having a united front together will mean that you can support each other and answer any questions that they might have together. Children are inquisitive and will ask questions. Be prepared to answer them. Let your children know that you are there for them, be present and available.
3. Find a quiet moment
It may seem like there is no ‘right’ time to speak to children about separation, but finding a quiet moment in your day would be the best suggestion. Time and place is important so talk them to in a familiar, safe place where they can be centre of attention
4. Age Matters
The age of your child or children will have an impact on how you talk to them about separating.
Young children (upto 5 years old):
Use pictures or drawings to explain to them. Use familiar language such as ‘Mummy’ and ‘Daddy’ to refer to the other parent.
Age 6-11 years old:
May be able to understand information and will be more able to talk and express their feelings.
Age 12+ years old:
Capacity to understand separation is increased. They may have friends whose parents have separated so may already have had some form of exposure to this. Hormones will kick in during this time and moods may be unpredictable so keep communication open. Give them time and space to process the information.
5. Share your feelings with your child
It is okay to share your feelings with your child. Encouraging children to express their feelings will help them feel that it is okay. Parents get told so often to be a role model and this applied when expressing emotions. You are only human after all! Be prepared that they may react in different ways; some children may cry or display anger or frustration. Reassure them that it is okay to be upset and offer cuddles to comfort.
6. Tell them the truth
Tell them what they need to know; they don’t need graphic details especially if there are particularly painful reasons for why the separation is happening in the first place (infidelity as an example). Be civil with the other parent; avoid belittling or criticising them in front of the children.
7. Reassure them that it is not their fault.
It is common that children may feel like they are to blame or they may try and convince you stay together because they can’t stand the thought of their parents being apart. They may say things like ‘I will be good if you stay together.’ It is important to reassure your children that it is not their fault. Tell them that you both love them and that will not change.
8. Stay future focused
Make plans with your children and involve them. Keep a routine so that it does not interfere with their usual sense of normality
Don’t forget, that it also important to take care of yourself. There is always the potential that the separation may affect you negatively and may lead to having emotions that you have not dealt with.
Taking care of your own mental wellbeing is important because if you are not getting the support that you need, you may struggle to be fully present for your child or children. Separations are difficult but you don’t have to ride the wave alone.
If you feel like you need to some psychological support following a split decision or separation to explore the idea of family therapy, get in touch with My Family Psychologist as we offer tailor-made support in couple’s therapy, solution-focused family therapy, relationship and marital difficulties and mediation designed to help you through difficulties that you may be experiencing.