With Time to talk day having just passed and Children’s Mental Health week on the 5th, I have been thinking a lot about the additional support we can offer our clients when going through a divorce and separation. During our meetings we discuss with our clients the importance of having a ‘team’ around you – whether that be emotional support, financial support or coaching, and when there are children, we also delve into what support can be offered for them.
We recognise that the separated parties are not the only ones who may need the additional support. When parents separate, it is common for children to feel as if their entire world has been turned upside down. It can be tricky to navigate their emotions, or figure out the next steps, so I have shared some tips below on how you can support your children during a separation.
1. Decide how and when to talk to the children
Inevitably, one of the first questions parents will worry about post-separation will be, “how will we tell the children?”. Unfortunately, there is no one size fits all, and it can be completely different depending on the age of the children, their emotional maturity, and the dynamic of the relationship itself. However, where possible, it is better for both parents to speak to the children together. This conversation is extremely important as it is setting the foundations for the separation. It is important to be honest about the separation, whilst also looking at it through the children’s eyes and talking in an age-appropriate manner. It often helps to plan the conversation in advance and sometimes a third party, such as a mediator, can assist with that.
After this conversation has taken place, it is common for children to ask questions. More often than not, they will be practical questions – “where will we all live?”, “will I still see my friends at school?”. It is important to be honest with the children, but avoid putting them in the middle of the separation.
It is also common for children to feel loss, grief and sometimes guilt. Not only that, but it is essential to listen to your children’s emotions and concerns and to ensure you validate their feelings. Perhaps try to work with a close family member or friend, so the children have someone other than the parents to turn too.
A sense of normality is extremely significant to children whose parents are separating. We understand that there will be some shift, especially where the children are moving between two houses, but trying to stick to the original routine whilst slowly incorporating the new routine, can help the children cope with the change.
It is also important to speak with the children regularly about the routine, where this is age-appropriate, and ask them how they find the new routine and if there is anything that would help them adapt.
4. Avoid blame and conflict
It is likely that there will be some hiccups along the way – whether that be because of the separation, the arrangements not working, or the finances. Ultimately, the better the parents can work together, the better it will be for the children. It is important to find a way to communicate– even if it is just about the essential things in the children’s lives.
Remember that it is also key to promote your child having a healthy relationship with the other parent and to not talk badly about each other to the child. Parents need to think about the long-term – parents do not stop parenting when a child turns 18. They need to think about attending graduations, weddings and other occasions. Setting a healthy co-parenting relationship now, will only benefit the children in the future.
5. Let them have their say
Where possible, on an age-appropriate basis, the children should have their say and be heard on issues that concern them. One way for this to happen is within child inclusive mediation. The purpose of child inclusive mediation is to give the opportunity for the children to speak with professionals about the separation, their concerns, and the routines going forward. It is not uncommon for children to give differing views to each parent where they are worried their views may upset someone, however during this process we find that children are more open to expressing their views about the situation as it is communicated through a third party.
When children are involved in mediation, it can also lead to more child focused agreements as the child feels genuinely involved and listened too. It should be noted that it is possible that the children do not want to engage in the mediation process and, if that is the case, they will not be forced to.
How our divorce solicitors can help
If you are going through a separation and would like further information about how we can assist, you can start online.