Seeing or hearing parents constantly fight or snipe at each other plays a big part in how children adjust to a break-up. They need to be able to separate themselves from the conflict and not feel as though they are caught in the middle.
You can teach your child that there are positive ways to deal with high conflict by learning them yourself.
Children can accept change as long as there is not too much at any one time and that they know what to expect. If they feel that there is space for them in both homes they’ll feel more secure.
Sometimes children can take on too much responsibility and “parent” their parents and siblings; anyone looking at a child who behaves like this might think that they were coping very well and were not unduly upset. This can often happen when parents are distressed; however the impact of this might not show up until your child becomes an adult and affects their future adult love relationships.
You might find that your children are a great help to you and are coping very well, but as you begin to recover from your relationship ending it may seem that your children are no longer coping and become quite distressed; you need to allow them to behave like children and let them know that it’s OK to feel sad or cross. Some children might go back to an earlier developmental stage; this is temporary – give your children time and attention and also encourage them to talk to a trusted teacher, family member or counsellor. They should soon change for the better.
Children can feel a great sense of loss when parents break up and grandparents and other family members can play a really significant role in their life. Staying in contact can provide an ongoing sense of family, love, and belonging, even when things are at their most difficult. Friends are also a good source of comfort and continuity – talk to your children about the important people around them and how they can stay in contact, especially if you are considering moving home. Sometimes children need extra support; you can talk to your child’s teachers or your GP if you feel that counselling might be helpful.
What children need:
- To be allowed to distance themselves from their parents’ conflict
- To have a predictable routine with consistent boundaries within the same household
- To know that they have two homes where they belong
- To be able to stay in contact with extended family like grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins
- To have access to other types of support if they want it
- Have hope for the future
- Above all – to be allowed to be a child.