When parents make a decision to separate it can be very a very stressful time for kids. Here are some tips to help you support them through this process:
Plan a time that you and your spouse can tell the kids together and agree to present a united front. This should be done without blame or anger. They need to know that this was an adult decision and that it is not their fault.
Consider the age, temperament and maturity of your children. Young kids probably need less information at one time to allow them to process what this change means. Teens may already be aware of the challenges in the marriage and may have more questions.
Be prepared for some questions they may ask and respond to their concerns as best as possible. They may have questions such as:
Where will I live?
Can I go to the same school?
How often will I see my other parent?
Can I still go to summer camp etc.?
Providing answers to their concerns will help them understand how the changes will affect them.
Be honest as much as possible, but avoid blaming and expressing negative feelings about the other parent. Make sure you and your spouse present the same information to your kids.
Help your kids express their feelings. It’s difficult to deal with your own feelings, but they need to know that it’s ok that they are sad, angry and confused. If they feel safe to share their feelings and concerns, it makes it easier for them to cope.
Offer support to your kids. If they would like to speak to someone about their feelings, arrange for them to see a school counsellor or a therapist. Often times, kids don’t feel that they can speak honestly about how they feel with either parent for fear of being disloyal or choosing sides. They need a safe space to process their emotions.
Keep their lives as consistent as possible. Children crave and require routine. Give them as much notice as possible, to changes in their normal schedule.
When deciding on a residential schedule, it’s best to consider the children’s needs ahead of your own. This can be very difficult, however some kids would function better in a shared arrangement, while others may need the stability of one home. This doesn’t mean that they have no access to the other parent, only that they have one place to consistently come home to.
Don’t communicate through the children. If you need to communicate with your ex regarding the children or other issues, arrange a neutral time and place away from the children. It is not fair for children to be expected to communicate grown-up issues for to the parents.
Look after your own needs during this time. (see my last blog post for tips) This will help you to be emotionally available to your children.
Reassurance for your kids is paramount. They need to know that it is not their fault and that they are loved by both parents. There will be many changes happening and they need to be assured that they still have both parents involved in their lives.
Be aware of any of the following behaviors that can suggest that your children need extra support and possibly professional assistance:
Depression or withdrawal;
Trouble or issues at school; and/or
Poor concentration or high distraction.
These signs indicate that you need to seek professional counselling as they demonstrate that your child is not coping well. Advising their teachers or coaches about what is happening can be helpful as they can also be aware of behavior changes. Separation is a difficult time for all family members. While going through this is emotionally taxing and physically draining, you must consider the impact on your children as well.