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Telling Your Children You are Separating

So you’ve separated from your partner. What happens next? This is something we’ve covered in a previous blog I’ve separated from my partner: what do I do next?

One of the first things that you’ll be likely to do now that you’ve made the decision to separate is to tell your children. This can understandably be something that you dread. You may fear your children’s reactions, be worried about hurting them or it may make the separation feel more real for you.

Every child and every family are different so it’s important to take time to think about your children and your family situation before you do anything. Your separation is a life-changing event for all of you. Explaining to them what is happening and why, is never going to be easy. But you can find ways to do it that will help your children feel supported and ensures that their needs are being met.

Here are some general tips.

  • Talk to them in familiar surroundings, somewhere they feel comfortable. Can you both speak to them? Even if that’s not possible, it can be helpful for both parents to be around afterwards if they have any questions.

  • Describe how your children’s world will change from their point of view, e.g. “Mummy/Daddy will still pick up from school but won’t be there to put you to bed.”

  • If one parent is leaving, tell the children when this will be, where they will be going, when they’ll see them again and how they can be contacted when they’re not around.

  • Use language your children are familiar with and will understand.

  • Avoid giving your children details that they don’t need, such as information about affairs.

  • Avoid speaking badly of your children’s other parent. It may put them off talking to you.

  • Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know the answer to something. You can tell your children you will find out, or that when you know you’ll tell them.

  • Let them know they can talk to either of you (if that’s possible) again, and at any time.

Your children’s needs will depend upon their age and development. For example, the explanation and questions asked by your four year old, are unlikely to be the same as those posed by a teenager. Telling them you’re separating is likely to be the first of many conversations you are likely to have with them about the changes ahead. It’s clearly important that your children continue to feel able to talk to you as the days, months and even years progress. This can feel daunting and hearing how your children feel can be upsetting. This can be especially hard when you’re dealing with your own difficult thoughts and feelings. Yet giving your children the opportunity to speak to you can help them adjust and supports their self-esteem.

Here are tips for talking to young children.

  • Think about what you were like at their age. How did you communicate with people? Were you sensitive or unfazed by emotional situations? Imagine what you as the young child would need from an adult that was talking to you. Engaging with your ‘child self’ this way may help you to engage with what your child wants when talking to them about difficult topics.

  • Aim for a ‘little but often’ as it can be hard for young children to concentrate.

  • Offer games or playing activities for your children to keep their eyes on while they talk to you. This can also help manage the length of your conversation.

And tips for talking to teenagers.

  • Work together with their other parent if possible about what you plan to say. Teenagers will respect you both more when you’re saying the same things.

  • Find a neutral space, for example out walking or in the car, as some teenagers can find eye contact awkward.

  • It can be useful to remember that you were a teenager once too. Think about your own teenage struggles and what might have helped you then.

  • Think of 3 key messages you’d like to get across. Such as “it’s okay to come and speak to either of us at anytime.”

  • Consider potential hurdles that might affect getting these messages cross.

  • Use open questions such as “how do you feel about X?”

  • Plan how you can react to their response in a positive way. Accept what you hear, even if it makes you uncomfortable.

  • Having regular conversations about how they’re feeling and coping can help them talk about problems when they’re ready.

If you and your ex-partner are struggling to make arrangements for your children and can’t agree what to say to them about your separation, this can be something you could discuss in mediation. For more information about mediation please visit our Family Mediation page or call us on 01670 528441.

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