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Supporting children through relationship breakdown

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No one wants to see their child struggling to cope when a relationship breaks down, but sadly those closest to you can be affected more than you may realise when family life takes a tumble.

Around five million parents have gone through separation and latest figures reveal that over four million children now live in separated families. However, a YouGov Poll published at the end of 2012 revealed that more than half of parents find it hard to access the help and support that they need when they separate.

Family arguing relationship breakdown

Protecting your children

Apparently children whose parents divorce when they are young are also more likely to have poor relationships with their mother and father than those who experience divorce later in life, according to a survey based on data from 7,735 people.

At the same time, many of us know and understand that it can be incredibly difficult to minimise the impact of separation on your children, especially when it comes to providing a sense of security once living arrangements are disrupted. But how can you make sure your children have a positive relationship with both parents?

Staying together for the sake of your children?

Weighing up whether it’s better to remain in an unhappy marriage or relationship for the sake of your child, or if you will all be happier in the long-run by not staying together, is going to be one of the hardest decisions you’ll ever have to make.

Whether it’s the conflict between you, a child receiving less attention or a parent’s depression, it’s not surprising that you will need to reassure your child during this time – especially when you consider how much physical, educational and social development that takes place during childhood; it’s often the experiences they go through before the divorce that can actually have the most effect on a child.

Be as open and honest as possible

“It is very important for parents to be as open and honest as possible with children. They need to feel that they have a ‘voice’ and that their feelings are important and that they will be listened to,” says Sarah Habermass at Think Children. “This is particularly true in the case of a custody battle where it is important that the children’s wishes are taken into account.”

“The parents’ issues are not the children’s issues – many children feel they may be to blame for the situation and again, being open and honest with them can avoid this. Unfortunately all too often children are used as a pawn in the situation by a hurt parent. It’s an easy trap to fall into when a parent is hurt but they should avoid making threats, scoring points, or talking to the child/children about the other parent in a negative way.”

parental separation

What will happen to me?

Howard Bramwell, is a contact centre manager and family mediator at Caritas Diocese of Salford, a charity which helps children, families and vulnerable people in need.

“Sometimes parents think that their child has no idea about what’s been going on behind the scenes, but often children are more sensitive to picking up on things than they realise. For children who don’t have an idea at all when it comes to finding out their parents are separating, the important thing is to bear in mind that often the first thing that they will as you is “What will happen to me?” It’s important that parents have that information already decided before getting into that conversation.

“With parents it’s really about avoiding getting into this perpetual conflict, such as ‘competitive parenting’ where they want to prove that they are the ones in the right. It’s quite common for a child to take sides, but often they will make the decision not to see a parent just because they don’t want the aggravation, not because they don’t love you.”

Resources and advice for parents and children

Tracey West, author of ‘Poetry of Divorce: for Women’ who developed the divorce coping tip of the day app, explains why it’s so important to seek further help and support: ‘When I was up to my neck in the madness that is divorce, I thought it would never end. There were many days when it was a struggle to put one foot in front of the other, but my focus was always drawn when I had child issues to sort out. Be it to-ing and fro-ing from school, organising whether they were staying with me or their father, or simply deciding what to have for dinner.”

• There are lots of resources on the internet and in libraries that can be very useful when it comes to explaining what is happening at home – for example, story books for children about divorce.

• You don’t have to cope alone – services such as Think Children and family mediation can help your child to develop coping skills to deal with circumstances beyond their control, by building emotional resilience and self-esteem in order to move forward in a positive way.

• Online tools can be invaluable for parents who need information quickly. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has set up an online app called “Sorting out separation”, which features an interactive tool for parents who are looking for personalised advice and further support.

 

 

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About Julia Faulks

About Julia Faulks

Julia Faulks is a content editor and journalist with 11 years' experience writing and subbing editorial for a number of publications. Now a mother herself, she has turned her hand to writing content for parents as well as young people and likes nothing more than turning long and complicated copy into something that everyone can understand.

Website: Julia Faulks

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