Explaining Separation

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Despite the best efforts of both partners many couple relationships do end in separation, and whilst this can be the right decision for you as adults trying to explain it to your child/ren can be difficult. Alongside having to cope with your own feelings of separation you will want to take care of and offer support to your child/ren emotionally and practically.

When thinking about how to explain to your child/ren that their parents are separating it may be helpful to imagine yourself as you were at their age/s being given this information, how you might have responded, and what you would have needed to know.

Useful tips

Here is some guidance for speaking with your child/ren about separation: -

  • If possible parents should tell their child/ren together. This can help your child/ren to feel reassured that their parents will continue to be there for them as their mum/dad even though they will no longer be living together as a couple.
  • Although separating is a difficult time emotionally and practically try to choose a time to tell your child/ren where you can be calm, have time to answer their questions, and be responsive to their feelings.
  • Before speaking to your child/ren think through what they will need to know, and what questions they may have, so you can both answer these in a united and clear way. It will be helpful for your child/ren to know what is going to happen and when.
  • Think carefully about how you respond to your child/ren asking why you are separating. A child will need to know mum/dad continue to love them. It is not helpful for your child/ren to hear about your resentments as a couple, or whether a parent is right or wrong. 
  • Use your network of friends and family, or seek professional support via counselling to help you with difficult emotions and anxieties accompanying a time of separation. Children can find it distressing if they witness a parent becoming increasingly distressed.  A child is more likely to feel reassured if they see that their parent is coping with their own emotions despite it being an upsetting and difficult situation.  You may want to explain to your child/ren that you have sad feelings and encourage them to express how they are feeling, but be mindful about how you manage your feelings in front of them.
  •  Although the situation between you and partner may have been or continues to be very difficult do not put down your partner in front of your child/ren. Try to be supportive as possible of your child/ren and your partner continuing to have a loving and caring child/parent relationship.
  • Think about how to keep as much contact as possible between your child/ren and both their parents.
  • As much as possible try to keep routines the same, and try to involve them in appropriate decisions such as what colour they want to paint their new bedroom.

Adjusting to the upheaval

Family counselling can be very helpful in enabling children and their parents to work through and adjust to the emotional and practical upheaval of parents separating.  Although parents may have separated it can be useful for them both to attend family counselling with their child/ren if it seems that a child or teenager is struggling to adjust to their new situation.  You can find a family counsellor via UKCP : https://www.psychotherapy.org.uk/find-a-therapist

Couple counselling can be helpful in enabling you to develop a supportive co-parenting relationship.