Talking to Your Kids About Separation
How Parental Conflict Affects ChildrenWhen relationship problems and conflict become severe enough and continue for long enough, the whole family and household environment becomes increasingly stressful. You may become more anxious, depressed, and short-tempered. Even if you have been very good about keeping boundaries between your conflicts and your children, children can often sense the tension. Infants and very small children usually feel these changes. Older children will have a better cognitive grasp of what’s happening by observing changes in their parents’ attitudes, moods, feelings, and behavior. Just when the children need the most support, parents are often least able to give it. As you worry and become depressed over the threat of a marriage or relationship ending, your patience for listening and dealing with children’s issues may suffer. Do everything you can to continue taking the children out of the center of your conflict!
The Impact of Physical Separation on ChildrenIn my experience, parents working on psychological separations, in-house separations, and even brief physical separations can usually continue to parent without disruption, providing they manage their conflict. It is physical separations, which I refer to as trial separations, in which one of you moves out of the home that can often create the most challenges with and for your children.
I offer several agreements that partners can enter into to:
- reduce the conflict in front of their children
- support each other as parents
- lessen impact of a separation on children
Helping children with their fearsAnyone who is separating from a valued relationship or has lost a loved one experiences some fear, and that includes children. Children often fear most that one or both of you will leave them, too. Even if children do not communicate their fears, parents should expect their children to have them.
Talking to your kids about the separationUnder the best circumstances, both parents should tell their children about an upcoming separation, and only after there is a plan as to how it will happen. In preparation, parents must evaluate how each feels about telling. If the very idea of it brings up exceptionally strong emotions for either parent, more time may be needed before talking with the children. If at all possible, children should be told sometime within the month prior to separation, and certainly more than a week before.
I also offer ideas about what to do when the ideal way of telling children is not possible, how to best help them cope and the role of other adults in their lives