As a counselling and support charity, The Spark often works with couples trying to avoid parental separation. Sometimes, however, it is best for everyone involved that a relationship comes to an end.
From time to time our counsellors are involved in helping couples separate amicably by providing emotional support, alongside mediation and/or legal proceedings.
Frequently they are asked the same question: “is there anything we can do to help our children cope with divorce?”
How to help a child deal with separation or divorce
With the help of our team of child and youth counsellors (CYP), The Spark has pulled together some practical ways to help a child deal with parental separation and divorce. You can find out more about the work of our CYP counsellors on our website.
Decide how and when you will tell your child about your divorce
Ideally, this is something that parents should do together having agreed on the when and where. Find a time and place free from distractions and where your child will feel most secure.
Separation and divorce is an emotionally charged time for parents but it is important to keep your feelings toward each other in check when you speak to your child.
Both parents need to take into account the age and stage of development of their child. Particularly in terms of how much information they might require and whether they might want to ask you questions.
For example, could your child be involved in discussions about where they live? Will they need encouragement to talk about your separation? Would counselling sessions be helpful to them?
Conversations about separation and divorce are never easy. However, by agreeing on a plan in advance and presenting a united front, it is possible to help a child deal with separation.
Continually offer your child loving reassurance
A vital aspect of the parental separation process is to reassure your child of your love. Though your feelings for your spouse or partner have changed, a child must be clear that your love for them remains the same.
It is also important to ensure they understand that they are not in any way ‘responsible’ for your separation.
Often younger or emotionally sensitive children can assume they are the cause of the relationship breakdown. Explain that this is an issue between their parents and no one else could have helped or changed the outcome.
Try to maintain a child’s routines
Stability and predictability are important for a child’s development. Daily routines provide that consistency but can easily be disrupted during parental divorce or separation.
For younger children, it is particularly important to make an effort to keep as much of their daily schedule intact after separation. Maintaining the exact same routine will be impossible but keeping the same routines for things like bedtime and school pick-up/drop-off arrangements will help.
As you move forward through the separation or divorce process, work together to create new daily routines that create the same stability and predictability for your child.
Watch what you say in front of your child
Though you may not feel particularly positive towards your partner or spouse, it is important to respect their relationship with your child. In the heat of such an emotional upheaval, both parents need to be careful about what they say in front of their children.
Try not to speak negatively about your partner in front of your child. This is both in terms of the language used and the tone of voice. Non-verbal communication – tone of voice, facial expressions, body language – can easily be picked up by children of any age. They can end up unfairly influencing their view of a parent.
When you are feeling frustrated and upset with your partner, speak to a trusted friend, family member or a professional counsellor. Avoid speaking to your child about such feelings, though it may be tempting if friends or family are not close by or available.
Encourage your child to talk about your separation
During distressing times like parental separation, children can often clam up and bury difficult emotions. Therefore, it is important to encourage them to talk about how they are feeling.
When they do, remember that their ability to communicate their emotions may be limited. This is likely to be the first time they have experienced such intense feelings of confusion, sadness, loss, fear and anxiety. Allow them to be open and honest in their own way about what they are experiencing.
A child’s perspective on your separation might not be what you expect. Check out this heart-warming story of a counsellor telling their own child about separation and his response.
Help them find someone to talk to
In some cases, a child may not feel comfortable talking to either parent about separation. Help them by finding someone else to talk to.
A family member, close friend or a professional youth counsellor can be good options. Ultimately, it is about finding someone your child trusts and confidentiality is essential.
Similarly, it is important that neither parent pushes the child to tell them what they discussed. If they volunteer to discuss it or the conversation has given them the confidence to speak to either parent, it can be beneficial to talk it over. But the child should never be made to feel that they ‘must’ tell a parent what they discussed with a friend, family member or professional counsellor.
Counselling for parental separation and divorce
At The Spark, we are leading providers of child counselling and youth counselling services. Established since 1965, we have been helping children cope with parental separation and divorce for decades.
Our team of highly qualified and accredited professional counsellors are available to work with individual children and teenagers struggling with parental separation. All counsellors are BACP or COSCA accredited with advanced qualifications in their field and extensive experience.