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Children’s Mental Health Week: Minimising the impact of separation on children

Separation and divorce are in the top three most stressful events in adult life, but how do they affect children?

For the overwhelming majority of separating couples, minimising distress to the children will be their priority. It is virtually impossible for there to be no impact on your children from divorce or separation; after all your daily lives will be very different moving forward.

We have 10 practical tips to help you support your children in the best way possible in the event of a separation.

1. Share the news together

It is best for children to hear a consistent story from both of their parents, so discuss what you think the children should know between yourselves first. Avoid apportioning any blame for the breakdown on either of you, even if this is difficult to do. Most of all it is important that the children hear from both of you that they are not to blame. There are lots of story books, depending on the age of the child, which can help you discuss this subject.

2. Allow your child to ask any questions

Children will be confused, worried and curious. They may have lots of questions, from practical things like where they will sleep, and where they will go to school, to how you will remember to feed the fish if your other half isn’t there to remind you!

3. Tell your children how much they are loved

You may feel it is obvious, but children will be in a state of turmoil and hearing from you that they are loved very much by both of their parents will reassure them about the future. One way we recommend explaining to children what is happening, is to tell them that you are separating as a married couple, but not as parents.

4. Present a united front 

Children are renowned for testing boundaries and playing one parent off against the other, and never more so than in times of change. Children will become confused if the boundaries differ significantly between their parents, so adopting a united position regarding routines and discipline can really help provide consistency and reassurance. A parenting agreement can help with this.

5. Tell people

Telling school or other significant adults in the children’s lives will allow them to seek support and help if they need it. Other adults can also keep a special eye out for any signs your child is struggling or finding things difficult.

6. Do not ask your children to be spies

Finding out how your ex is, or whether they’ve rearranged the furniture in the family home is very tempting, but don’t ask your children what the other parent is doing. This puts children in a very awkward situation!

7. Speak positively about the other parent

This is often difficult to do when hatred may run very deeply. However, no matter how awfully your ex has behaved towards you, they remain your child’s parent and your child will love and respect them. Criticising your ex, or blaming them, or putting them down, is harmful and destabilises a child’s sense of loyalty and belonging in a family.

8. Communicate directly

Do not ask children to pass on messages. Arrangements and messages should always be passed between the adults directly, no matter how minor the issues are. Children can easily feel caught in the middle. Where direct communication is too difficult, there are other ways to do this such as by email, text message, or through a communication diary.

9. Don’t burden children with your emotions

Children should be care free and not feel burdened by their parents’ emotions or feelings. Give your child the permission to enjoy their time with their other parent without worrying about you, or how you will cope without them.

10. Seek specialist support if you need it

If you see signs your child is struggling, then seek help from professionals.

How can we help?

All families are different and unique. Separation or divorce does not have to damage your children if it is handled well. In fact, most children adapt very well to their new circumstances.

Balfour + Manson are experienced in guiding parents through both the legal and practical elements of separation. Many of our solicitors are qualified as mediators or collaborative solicitors and those processes can be an excellent way to resolve any differences you have. We can help you to think about a parenting agreement, and what to include in that.

Getting good quality family law advice from the outset can help set you on the right track to protect your children as best you can.