Talking to children about separation

By amica

Talking to children about separation

Hearing their parents are separating can be difficult for children to understand and deal with, particularly if they are younger. It can be one of the most stressful parts of the separation process for parents too.

If you’re a parent who is considering separating, or know someone who is, you might want to consider the following tips for talking with your children about separation and helping them navigate their own feelings.

Tell them together (as a team) and be open and honest

Choosing the right time and sitting down together as a family to talk about what is happening and why can help lower the ‘emotional temperature’ and reassure your kids that although things are changing, it is going to be okay. Keep the conversation calm and avoid negativity and blame. It’s important to be honest (in an age-appropriate way), keep it simple and remind them that they are loved and that the separation isn’t their fault.

Be prepared and answer their questions

Children will probably have lots of questions, so it’s important to try to give them some certainty during this time. They might ask you:

• What happened? Why don’t you love each other anymore?

• Where am I going to live?

• When will I get to spend time with each of you?

• What school am I going to go to?

• When can I play sport and do fun things I enjoy?

Some children won’t feel ready to talk about these things straight away. They might need time to think it through in their own first. Their questions will likely change as the separation process moves forward. Keep an eye out for ongoing opportunities when it seems like they are ready to ask you more or tell you more. If possible, take time to be ‘present’ with them when these opportunities arise.

Let them communicate about their feelings in the way that works best for them

Helping children to explore and understand their feelings can help them feel less worried. If they are old enough, ask them about what they would like to do and what is important to them. Sometimes children can’t identify or explain how they feel. They might prefer to explore feelings by using toys, games, or drawing. For younger children you can use story books about families separating as a way to help them ‘see’ what that can look like. Whatever way works best for them, let them know that you are open to understand their feelings with any judgement. Reassure them that you both still love them no matter how they are feeling. If you are amicable, let them know that you are still ‘friends’ even though you have chosen not to live together anymore. They won’t necessarily work this out by themselves.

Encourage them to talk to someone else or get support if they need it

Sometimes it can be hard for children to speak with their parents about the separation process and how they are feeling. It can help if they know they have other options, like friends or other family members (grandparents or aunties and uncles). Getting expert advice and support can sometimes make a really big difference. Support services are available from the Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 (www.kidshelpline.com.au – free 24/7) and headspace (www.headspace.org.au).

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