Telling your children about your decision to separate can be one of the most challenging aspects of the process of a divorce, break up or separation.
Approaching the conversation with care, compassion, and a well-thought-out plan can make this significant life transition smoother for the whole family. Planning ahead allows you to approach the situation with clarity, and helps your children feel supported and reassured during this transition.
By working as a team with your ex-partner and understanding how to have the talk effectively, you can create a supportive environment for your children to express their emotions and guide them through the complexities of a separation.
Work as a team: you and your ex
When it comes to telling your children about the separation, it’s crucial to work as a team with your ex-partner.
Start by having a conversation with your ex to discuss how you will approach the topic with your children. Together, decide on how you will frame the conversation in a way that both of you are comfortable with, ensuring that it is blame-free and focused on the wellbeing of your children.
If possible, plan to have the conversation with your partner present, as a united front, to provide a sense of stability for your children. By working together, you can provide your children with a clear and consistent message about the separation, reducing their confusion and helping them navigate this challenging time with greater understanding and support.
Before starting the conversations with your kids, plan ahead to ensure a thoughtful and supportive conversation. Take the time to anticipate concerns, emotions, and questions that your children might have. Put yourself in their shoes, and reflect on what they may be experiencing, so that you can better prepare to address their needs.
Think about how you can tailor the conversation to be age-appropriate for your children, and consider how much information your children can understand and process. They might require more or less detail, depending on their age. Be cautious in not overwhelming them with information that they may not be ready for.
Above all, emphasise to your kids that both you and your ex-partner love them just as much as ever, and reassure them that this love will remain unchanged despite the changes in the family structure.
How to have the talk
It’s best to have the initial discussion as a team with your ex-partner. While you may have individual follow-up conversations later, the first conversation should focus on explaining why the separation is happening, in a way that is appropriate for your children’s age.
Be sure to avoid sharing specific details that could be painful for the children to know about their parents. Don’t draw them into adult issues.
Clearly communicate what will change and what will remain the same in their lives to help them navigate the transition. Let them know which parent will be leaving the family home, and establish a schedule for when they will see them and how often.
Reassure your children that the separation is not their fault, emphasising that it is a decision made by the adults and does not diminish the love you both have for them.
By approaching this talk with empathy, understanding, and open communication, you can help your children navigate this difficult time with more clarity and support.
Responding to emotions
Be prepared for a wide range of responses.
While you may have anticipated some of your children’s emotions, it’s essential to be open to the full spectrum of feelings they may experience.
Normalising their reactions can provide them with a sense of validation and reassurance.
While it is a difficult conversation to have, remember that your children will look to you to judge how to respond themselves. Try to control your own emotions and offer support and permission for your children to express their emotions. Remind them that everyone in the family will adjust to the changes and heal over time.
Patience is key, as your children may have immediate questions and concerns or may gradually process and share their feelings.
By creating a safe and supportive environment where all emotions are accepted, you can help your children navigate their emotions more steadily.
Supporting your child through a separation
Supporting your child through a separation is one of the most important jobs you can do as a parent, and can greatly contribute to their emotional wellbeing and adjustment to new family dynamics over time.
Giving them time to adjust is essential, as the process can be challenging for children. Try to contain conflict and shield your kids from fights or negative interactions with your ex-partner.
Avoid using your children as messengers or involving them in adult issues. Respect the other parent’s time with the children and their privacy, refrain from asking your kids to report on the other parent’s activities.
While it may be difficult depending on the circumstances in which your relationship ended, put your children’s wellbeing first, and try to support your child’s relationship with the other parent.
This includes refraining from denigrating or badmouthing them in your children’s presence or hearing. Nurture the bond between your children and the other parent by encouraging quality time, engaging in fun activities, and fostering joy.
Maintaining family routines and stability can also provide a much-needed sense of security during this uncertain time.
Finally, keep the conversation going. Maintain a dialogue and open communication with your children, as they may have ongoing questions, feelings or concerns that arise well after the initial conversation.
If you feel they need additional support, you can suggest a trusted individual for them to talk to, such as a close family member, friend, or therapist.
Children are resilient, and when supported by adults they trust, they are very capable of navigating a transition such as this but they depend on the adults involved not to draw them in to any conflict or adult issues.
When should you tell your child you are getting separated?
If your children are of an appropriate age and can understand that the family structure will change, try to tell them you are getting or have separated as soon as possible and practical once the decision has been reached. Delaying the conversation will only create more uncertainty and anxiety, especially if they sense that something is wrong.
Consider the timing of the conversation. It’s best to avoid telling your child during a major life event, such as before an important exam, during a family vacation, or on a special occasion, as this may overshadow or detract from the event.
At what age is a child most affected by separation?
Separation can have a significant impact on children of all ages, from infants to teenagers. Separation can affect their routines, living situation, time spent with parents, and sense of identity.
Children may feel a range of emotions, including sadness, anger, confusion, and anxiety. They may also feel torn between their parents and may worry about the future of their family and their own role within it.
During adolescence, children are developing their sense of identity and independence, and the disruption of their family unit can have a significant impact on their emotional and psychological well-being.
It’s important to note that every child is different, and the impact of separation can vary depending on a range of factors, such as the child’s personality, their relationship with their parents, and the nature of the divorce itself. Therefore, it’s important to approach the situation with sensitivity and to provide support and reassurance to children of all ages throughout the process.
Parents should be aware of the potential challenges of a parental separation at different ages and life stages for their children and to provide emotional support and reassurance.