Helping your children to navigate separation and divorce

May 19, 2023

Many families face the challenge of a separation or divorce. Whatever the cause, is difficult for everyone and can be very upsetting and confusing for the children.

Parental separation and divorce aren’t merely events; they’re evolving processes that touch on many aspects of a child’s life.

Seeing less of one or both parents, moving between homes with different rules, and dealing with changes in family finances or parental employment all add up to big adjustments for a child.

Research informs that it is not the split itself, but the conflict between parents that hurt kids most. Although it can be hard to do when feelings are running high, communicating and cooperating with your ex is the best gift you can give your child to help soften the impact of separation or divorce.


Here are some helpful ideas to help you support your children through the process of separation:

  1. Inform your child/ren together. Most children will always remember being told about a separation. Present a united, optimistic front to make it a less painful memory.
  2. Avoid buying treats out of guilt. Your children may see it as a sign that you are trying to buy their  cooperation or bribe them to bury their feelings.
  3. Set out the basics. Explain that you aren’t happy together and have agreed to live apart. Tell them that you will both always love them, and that nothing can change that.
  4. Let them know what to expect. Explain what will be the same or different in your children’s life. Will they have to move or change schools? Answer their main concern, which is, ‘’Who’s going to look after me?’’, tell them you both will, just in different places.
  5. Don’t bad- mouth your ex. whatever has gone on between you as two adults, your children still love and need both parents. Don’t criticize your ex in front of your child, or the hostility can make them feel torn in two.
  6. Accept your child’s feelings. Let them know is normal to feel sad, mad, worried, relieved, or any mixture of feelings. When you decide to introduce a new romantic partner, wait until the relationship is serious and take it slowly. They might feel jealous of your new partner or disloyal to your ex.

2-3 years old

Give lots of comfort. Children facing big events often erupt over small triggers because they have no coping reserves left. Respond to overwhelm with soothing.

Setbacks are normal- children may regress- crying at bedtimes, having separation anxiety. Be patient.

4-5 years old

Inform the school. Let your child’s teachers know, so they can be understanding of any changes in behaviour.

Be a united front. Be polite to your ex so your child doesn’t feel awkward about having you both at events, such as school assemblies and concerts.

6-7 years old

Children this age may blame themselves for the split. Explain repeatedly that it wasn’t their fault. Help them figure out what and how to tell their friends. Your children may also fantasise about reconciliation, which can hold back recovery and make it harder for them to accept when you move on. Tell them this is an adult decision they can’t influence. 

The truth is that it is going to being a difficult time for children when their parents separate, so putting you children first by making every effort to reduce their levels of stress and anxiety is highly recommended.