Talking to Your Kids About Separation

How Parental Conflict Affects Children

When 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 Children

In 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 fears

Anyone 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 separation

Under 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.

In my book Taking Space and the Couples Home Study Course, Step 6 CD, I offer you a sample of what to say to children about separation (Taking Space pgs 158-164).

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

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Taking Space Book

Read Bob's comments on: How To Tell if You Should Get Back Together with an Ex in Women's Health online magazine 5/20/14

Book review from

5.0 out of 5 stars best book I have read in a long time, very thorough.

- Hannah Latta

This review is from: Taking Space: How To Use Separation To Explore The Future Of Your Relationship (Kindle Edition)

"This book is by far the best book I have read on the subject of separation. The author is extremely thorough in describing various scenarios of different couples, their conflict, type of separation, process of resolution or dissolution. It touches on how to talk to the children, goals during separation, how long to separate, and what kind of separation to use for different cases. I appreciate the depth and length the author went in sharing his experience in this book to help others."