Whatever the circumstances, parental separation is hard on families and big changes must be made. Keeping their children at the centre of parenting and responding to the thoughts, feelings and questions a child may have, will help parents to help their child.
Research shows that children normally experience one or more of the following reactions to the separation of their parents:
- Loyalty conflict: Children often get caught in the middle.
- Does Mum or Dad love someone else?: Although Mum or Dad might not love each other, it is important to reassure the child that they love him/her.
- I don’t want to come over today: As they get older, children’s interests vary. They may not want to visit a parent and may just want to spend more time with their friends.
- Fantasies of responsibility and reconciliation: Children may feel they are responsible for their parents’ separation. They may dream up plans to get their parents to reconcile.
- Why don’t you love Mum or Dad anymore?: It is not uncommon for children to ponder this question. Often children will blame the parent who they believe initiated the separation and view the other parent as a victim.
- If you do not come home, I will never speak to you again: The purpose of a statement like this is to make the parent feel guilty so that they will return home.
- Anger: Children between the ages of 8-16 years can experience intense anger. They can often be most angry with the parent they blame for separation, but they may express anger only towards the parent they view as the ‘safest’, usually the resident parent.
- What should I tell my friends?: If you want your child to share the situation with others, you must be able to do the same. Encourage your child to be honest about the situation.
- Why are you separating?: Children are more likely to ask this if they have not been given a clear explanation for the separation.
- Worry about the future: The child may worry about the future. This is more likely to occur where there is parental conflict around contact and maintenance. Parents need to listen to their child’s worries and talk honestly and openly with them about any concerns.
One Family offers counselling and play therapy for young people and children, and a range of services to parents sharing parenting or parenting alone after separation. You can find out about them here. If you need support, information or advice, contact our lo-call askonefamilyhelpline on 1890 66 22 12 / firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week’s ’10 Ways to …’ is adapted by One Family’s Director of Children and Parenting Services, Geraldine Kelly, from our Family Communications training programme.
Coming soon: 10 Ways to Problem Solving and 10 Ways to Develop Family Rituals.