How to talk to kids about separation

It’s hard dealing with a marriage breakdown, there is heartache, disappointment and then the added stress of trying to work out all the logistics. And then you have the heartbreaking task of  breaking it to the kids.

No one makes the decision to separate and split up the family lightly, and it's likely there is a myriad of factors involved, but how much information do your children really need to know?

Here are some things to consider when discussing your separation with your kids.

What should you tell them?

It's likely your kids will have noticed some tension and a breakdown in relations, and not communicating what is happening can have lasting effects. According to Left Field's child psychologist, Sasha Lynn, keeping in mind their age and developmental level is critical.

"Obviously they are not going to need to know about the intimate details behind the separation, or any negative feelings harboured etc, but be clear and open about the changes the family is going to undertake, and what it means for them," says Dr Lynn.

No child needs to know the gritty ins and outs, so be mindful of how you speak about their other parent. 

When should you tell them?

The decision to separate is a very personal process. You may go to counseling, or take time out from each other in order to work out where your feelings truly lie and to see if your marriage is salvageable. This may take weeks, months or years to figure out. 

Although being honest with your children is important, it is also important that you don't say too much before you are certain about what is going on.

"When you are both at a point of mutual understanding regarding what is going on within your relationship, and are feeling comfortable about taking the next step. Ensuring your emotions are calm and the decision has been clearly made regarding the break up," tells Dr. Lynn.
mother helping child

What potential problems you need to be aware of?

Little heads and hearts are likely to feel confused and hurt, but children may also be afraid of what it means to them if their parents no longer live in the same home. As you will grieve the end of your marriage and go through an adjustment period, so too will your children.

"Sometimes young children may blame themselves for a break up, thinking they might have said or done something to cause Mum and Dad to get angry and fight,” says Dr Lynn. 

“Children may also regress in their behaviours as they struggle to understand why separation is occurring. It could trigger some worries and sadness in them, which may come out as anger, behavioural difficulties, somatic complaints (headaches, sore tummies etc) or withdrawal".

Reassure your children that the issue is between you and your partner and is not about them.

How to ensure your children feel secure in your love?

Depending on the age of the children, you need to remember that they don’t think like adults. They don’t have the same capacity for reason and logic so you will need to reassure them every step of the way that you both still love them and that everything will become routine again soon.
“Often they will be the ones living out of a suitcase, switching between two different homes,” says Dr Lynn. “It will take time to adjust and to accept. Know that as hard as it is, if it is the right thing for you and your partner to live in different homes, then ultimately it is the right thing for your kids too.”
The separation process is painful and difficult but as with all of life’s difficulties, things soon change and settle and life becomes normal once more.
If you need someone to talk to about what you’re going through you can call: 
Lifeline - 13 11 14

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