One of the most stressful experiences for children is when their parents separate. There are so many changes happening, almost none of which the children have any control over. Parents can significantly reduce the potential harm to their children by how they navigate through the separation, and how they talk to and around the children.
- Firstly, and most importantly, always keep the best interest of your children as your main focus. The best way to do that is by maintaining an amicable relationship with your co- parent. When your children see you treating their other parent with respect and kindness, they feel reassured and can cope better with change.
- Make it very clear to your children that they are not the cause of the separation. Young children in particular tend to think that they are to blame for the separation. Explain to them, repeatedly, that this is a choice that you and your co-parent are making, that you both love them, and that you will both continue to take good care of them.
- Decide the parenting schedule with your co-parent before you put the plan to your children. Then, once the plan has been finalized, communicate it clearly and openly with your children. For older children, be prepared to consider their feelings about where they want to live and what parenting schedule will work for them.
- Encourage your children to talk openly about their feelings – and listen, really listen to your children. Listen to what they are telling you. They may struggle with how to put their feelings into words, so be patient. Do not interrupt them. As hard as it may be for you, make it safe for them to be honest with you about their fears, hurt, frustrations, and disappointment.
- Answer your children’s questions as clearly and honestly as you can. It’s not about sweeping issues under the carpet and pretending that everything is fine, because children know it’s not. One thing children have that we as adults often miss, is true clarity. They know us well, and we have a responsibility to give them the truth, as gently and as healthily as we can.
- Get support, for your children, and for you too. In addition to friends and extended family, counsellors can help immensely in these times of many moving parts and high emotions, to sort out feelings, to teach you effective ways of communicating with your children and your co-parent, and to help craft workable parenting plans. It’s so important to carry our children through these rough waters with as little trauma as possible, so that they can go on to create healthy relationships in their lives.