Protecting your child's mental health during a separation
Supporting children during a separation
It’s Children’s Mental Health week this week. Separation is frequently said to be one of the three most stressful events in an adult’s life, so how can separating parents best protect their children’s mental health? Separation will inevitably have an impact on the children since their lives will change dramatically. How can parents help children adapt to these changes? We give you our top 5 tips:
- Agree on the “facts” – It’s important children know mummy and daddy no longer live with them together. It is much more damaging for children to think daddy, or mummy, might return soon. Consider what the children need to know and deliver that message consistently. It is not helpful to apportion blame on either parent, even if this is difficult for one parent to swallow. However, it is very important that children hear that they are not to blame.
- Acknowledge the changes – Children will have lots of worries about how separation will impact them. Some worries you will have already thought of, like where they will live, will they still see granny, who will take them to school. Other things you may not have anticipated, like whether you’ll remember to take the dog’s favourite ball out on your walks if they are not there, so make sure you listen to what they are worried about and provide reassurance.
- Don’t burden the children with your emotions – Speak positively about the children’s time with the other parent which gives them permission to enjoy time away from you. They shouldn’t spend the time apart from you worrying about whether you are missing them, or lonely, or sad, so it is not helpful to tell them these things. Telling the children that you love them and will see them when they come back, but you will be very busy when they’re gone, creates a secure environment for the children in both households.
- Don’t pass messages through the children – Children should see the adults in their lives as being capable of making the necessary arrangements. Don’t ask the children to tell mum or dad something, it puts too much responsibility on the children for the response they might get. If it is too hard to speak directly to the other parent then make sure you agree a way to communicate, by email or by text perhaps. Speak positively about the other parent, don’t pass negative remarks, as this is harmful and destabilises a child’s sense of loyalty and belonging in a family.
- Most of all remind your children how much they are loved by both you and their other parent, as well as their extended families on both sides. Children will be in a huge state of confusion, and they may think that if you and your ex could fall out of love then that could happen to your love towards them. Remind them that your love towards them has not changed as a result of the separation from their other parent. A good way to explain this is that you are separating from each other as husband and wife, but you will never separate as parents.
While separation will always bring about changes for a child, it doesn’t have to be harmful if handled well. Children are adaptable and may surprise you with their resilience in dealing with change. Harper Macleod can help you navigate the inevitable changes separation may bring for your family in a way which can minimise the impact on your children. Many of our solicitors are trained mediators, or collaborative lawyers, and we are best placed to provide you with the help you need to resolve your differences in way that minimises the emotional impact on your children.
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