If you are going through a separation or divorce you are probably worried about the effect it will have on your children.


Research has demonstrated that divorce can contribute to depression, anxiety, anger and difficulty in school and social situations. But the good news is that research also shows that children can cope with separation and big changes in their family dynamics and come out the other side just fine.


Here are some ‘Golden Rules’ when it comes to parenting throughout a separation:


1. Avoid Fighting in Front of the Children

It may sound very obvious, but it can be difficult to always remain calm when emotions are heightened. Remember that children may overhear raised voices and arguments once they have gone to bed, those comments when they are in the back of the car, heated phone calls or even be listening into conversations you are having with your friend. If you have very young children, remember even if they are not talking yet, they are very likely to be picking up on your conversations, emotions and body language. It will take control and maturity, but it is in your children’s best interests not to be witnesses to any anger or negativity.


2. Reassurance is Key

Often children will feel responsible for a break-up. During their early learning years most of their unpleasant experiences were their fault (getting hurt or told off etc.). So it is natural to blame themselves for turmoil in the family. Make sure you enforce that this situation is not their fault. Whilst there is a lot of animosity in the atmosphere it is important for children to still feel loved and to be reassured that the parent leaving the family home is not leaving the children.


3. Should you Tell the Children?

No-one knows your children like you do, so you will have to make your own judgement call on if and when it is an appropriate time to inform children of the separation. Consider using language and words that are child-friendly and developmentally appropriate. It is important not to confuse them or go into too much detail on why you are separating, but give them an opportunity to ask you any questions and do your best to answer them. It is a good idea to have a few short talks with your children rather than one long talk and expecting them to understand. See our article ‘How to Tell Your Children About Divorce: An Age Appropriate Guide’.


4. No Blame, No Sides

Avoid blaming the other parent in front of the children, even if one party is potentially at fault. Children need to still love and trust both parents in order to have a healthy relationship with them individually. Never ask your children to take sides – asking who they want to live with is a big ‘no-no’ but there are other more subtle situations where a child may feel pressured to choose between mum and dad which is very unhealthy. For example, one parent openly being upset that they won’t see them for a special occasion such as Christmas or a family party. This could easily be overheard or picked up on by a child and cause them anxiety.


5. Let Them Express Their Feelings

It is completely normal for your child to feel sad, worried, frightened or angry about big changes to their lives. Allow them to cry, shout and vent but try to encourage this to be through a healthy outlet – perhaps introduce a diary or talk to them whilst they are relaxed or playing a game. Let them know that both parents are there to talk to. Equally don’t be too alarmed if you child shows next to no emotions – this is also normal, sometimes children show a delayed reaction or are genuinely not as affected as you thought they would be – children are very resilient!


6. Maintain ‘Normality’ and Remain Consistent

As much as possible, try to keep family routines and rituals operating as normal throughout your separation. It is important for the children’s life’s not to fall apart, even if yours might be. This continued normality will help show them that life will go on afterwards and you don’t want bedtime routines, schooling and homework to go out of the window on top of what you are already dealing with. This also applies to parents already living in separate houses. Divorce can be a huge transition, it is vital that both houses share the same routines, rules and parenting styles.


7. Be Co-Operative

When parents continue to co-parent during and after a separation the child fares much better. You are likely to have disagreements on finances, schooling, schedules etc. but as long as both parents remain flexible and act to resolve issues fairly the children should adapt much better to the changes. Chronic, high-conflict divorces have much more of a negative effect on children.


8. Be There for your Children

Be aware that children need time with both parents and whilst your separation is going on they may really need your attention and time. Make sure they still feel connected with the parent that has left the family home by allowing them to stay in touch via phone, texting, FaceTime – which ever options are age appropriate.


9. Make Children Welome in Both Homes

It will take some getting used to for children to go back and forth between two homes. Try to make it easy for them so that they have all the essentials at both houses – such as clothes, toothbrushes, toiletries, chargers etc. It would be ideal for children to have their own bedroom, or their own bed in a shared room, so that they have a space that feels like ‘their own’. The introduction of new partners needs to be handled sensitively and not rushed into. Although this may be a difficult conversation it is best to discuss how you will handle these situations with your ex-partner before introducing a new partner into your children’s lives.


10. Help is at Hand

Don’t struggle through a separation on your own – use your network of friends and family to help support you through the transition and use professionals when needed who can offer advice and guidance. There are many supportive websites and groups that you can turn to for support, whether it is reading a blog from someone you can relate to or attending a divorce recovery workshop. If your children are suffering or struggling to adapt it may be worth speaking to their school and seeing if some additional support can be put in place. Remember you can speak to local counsellors or your GP – it is vital that you look after your own wellbeing and mental health in order to support your children as well.


Whether you are considering divorce, at the early stages of a separation or already legally divorced, the Family Law Team at Lamb Brooks Solicitors are here to help support you. We offer a full spectrum of family services from children arrangements, mediation, collaborative process, separation agreements and divorce / civil partnership dissolution.


We work with the best interests of you and your family in mind and support you through this difficult period in your life.


For further information please call our supportive and friendly Family Law Team on 01256 844888, email enquiries@lambbrooks.com or speak to our online chat assistant at any time of day.


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