Divorce and Separation: How Can I Help My Children?

There are few more hotly contested areas than the impact separation and divorce can have on children. Conflicting studies emerge with regularity and it can be almost impossible to generalise as each family situation will be different.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists lists a number of potential impacts that separation and divorce can have on children, including feelings of guilt and responsibility, believing the divorce was their fault, fear of one or both of their parents abandoning them and feelings of loss and grief. All of this can be compounded by the practical changes children may also experience when their parents divorce such as seeing one parent less, moving home or school and potentially having to get used to new partners and step-siblings.

Children and adolescents can develop emotional and behavioural issues relating to the divorce which can manifest themselves in a number of ways from clingy behaviours or 'regression' – that is, acting younger than their years – to difficulties in school and more serious problems.

How can I help my child?

If all this seems gloomy, there are also studies such as a 1998 analysis by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) which looked at over 200 studies and found that whilst short term distress is very common, more severe long term impacts on children were only found in a minority of cases.

Whilst going through separation and divorce is undeniably traumatic for everyone involved, parents need to remember there are steps you can take such as to reassure your children and let them know they are still loved and the divorce is not their fault. Critically, parents need to avoid putting their children in the middle of their own conflict, such as speaking badly of the other parent or pressurising the child or children to choose who they want to live with. Regular and reliable contact with both parents and extended family will also help children to feel more secure.

Support, Support, Support: Sources of help and information about divorce for children

There is plenty of advice and support available to help families come through this difficult time. A number of resources specifically designed for children exist on the web such as:

Finally, the JRF analysis showed that long-term adverse impacts were more likely where parents struggled to deal with their own difficult emotions so it is vital you make sure you are getting support from family, friends and/or professionals such as a counsellor to help you through the process so that you in turn can support your children.

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