What can parents do?

Helping Children Cope With Separation and Divorce

What children need

  • To know that they still have two parents who love them and are able to look after them
  • To be listened to by their parents
  • To be kept out of their parent's fight
  • To be allowed to love all the people that are important to them

What can parents do?

  • DO tell children what is happening. Coping with an unpleasant reality is better than uncertainty. Being open allows your children to trust you.
  • DO listen to what worries the children. Their worries will be different from yours, e.g. what will happen to the family pet?
  • DO ensure the children get at least as much attention as they did before. Parents will have other practical worries, e.g. money and housing. Someone else may help, perhaps a teacher or grandparent.
  • DO be consistent in your arrangements. Children need to be able to trust what you promise. But do try to be flexible as well. Rigid arrangements become a duty not a pleasure. Everyone's needs vary from time to time … even yours.
  • DO remember that the children had, and usually want, two parents. All parents have good and bad features, no-one is perfect. The parent who insults the other can be discredited in the eyes of the children.
  • DO treat the children as people in their own right and allow them to express their views. It does not mean giving them the responsibility for major decisions, it means taking their wants into account.
  • DO put the children's needs before your own. They are not possessions to be fought over. They need two effective parents, each reassuring the children they still love them and are able to look after them.
  • DO tell the school. Teachers can provide stability, support and comfort at a time when parents may be engrossed in their own affairs. Difficulties may be noticed earlier if teachers are aware of the situation.
  • DO support your children in their relationship with the other parent, step parents or new partners. You are responsible for making their life easier.
  • DO find a way to communicate with the other parent about arrangements. Your children should not be responsible for carrying messages.

What harms children

  • Children are frightened by conflict. They feel that you will not be able to control their world and keep them safe.
  • Relying on the court shows your children that you are unable to work together.
  • If you make children feel bad about their other parent, they will feel bad about themselves and they may end up feeling bad about you.
  • Children will suffer if the rift between parents means they lose relationships that are important to them.

What can parents do?

  • DON'T make the children an audience for all your complaints. They will have their own experiences of the situation and only become confused and uncertain by grievances which they may not understand.
  • DON'T enlist the children as allies in your fight against the other parent. They will need two parents and do not want to hear all the bad things about the other. Children know they take after both parents.
  • DON'T use the children as a focus for quarrels. Continued conflict, even between separated parents can be harmful to your children.
  • DON'T discourage the children from talking about the situation as they see it, however callous or irrelevant it may seem ("We need a new daddy or mummy now the old one has gone", for example). Encourage them to express their fears, which may be different from yours
  • DON'T forget that children are children. They need to keep doing what others of their age are doing. Some children may have to assume adult responsibilities, but they still need to play.
  • DON'T become so engrossed in your children that neither you nor they can develop other interests or relationships.
  • DON'T succumb to emotional blackmail from the children. If you cannot afford the time or money for something they want, say so and stick to it. Children will feel safer with established limits.
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