Navigating Separation: A Parent’s Guide to Supporting your children
Posted on July 24th, 2023
Separation or divorce can be a particularly challenging and emotional process that affects not only you and your co-parent, but also your children. Commonly resulting in some big changes, seemingly all at once, separation can lead to children feeling unsettled, upset, and confused.
While navigating separation can be an emotional rollercoaster, and your relationship with your co-parent might be strained, Sharyn Tranent, the Family Relationship Centre Manager for CatholicCare Central Queensland, says it’s crucial to prioritise children’s well-being, and provide them with the necessary emotional support that they need during this difficult time.
“To a child, no matter how old they are, watching their parents separate can make them feel as if their entire world has been turned upside,” explains Sharyn. “That’s why it’s so important for all parents to have a good understanding of the impact that separation can have, so they can help kids to adjust to family changes as best they can.”
There are many effective and practical strategies that can be adopted to help children navigate the separation process with resilience and strength.
- Maintain Open and Honest Communication
Regularly talking to your child is one of the most important things you can do as it’s important to establish a safe space where children can freely express their thoughts, emotions, fears, and concerns. Encourage your children to ask questions and meet their concerns with compassion and understanding, not judgement. Reassure them that their feelings are valid and explain any changes in clear, simple, honest language that your child can understand.
- Stability and Familiar Routines
Routines help children feel secure, safe and in control, so maintaining consistent routines and schedules as much as possible (meals, bedtime, school activities) will help your child to cope with upcoming changes, by giving them something they can rely on. Try to identify small routines that really matter to your child, such as a regular playdate with a friend, weekly sport, or a daily bike ride after school.
“Predictability helps children to feel secure during an uncertain time and minimises anxiety,” explains Sharyn. “It’s also a good idea not to make any other big changes, such as the school they attend or the extracurricular activities they do, unless it’s absolutely necessary.”
- Avoid Blaming and Negativity
Separation or divorce can lead to intense emotions, including anger and resentment. It is important for parents to shield children from negative comments or blame toward the other parent. Children should not be put in a situation where they have to witness major conflicts or are made to choose sides. Encourage your children to maintain a healthy relationship with both of you, as it is vital for their ongoing emotional well-being.
- Seek Professional Support
You aren’t expected to go through this overwhelming experience alone, nor are you expected to have all the answers. Seeking professional support, such as family mediation or counselling, can assist you in navigating the challenges of co-parenting effectively, making decisions, and finding strategies to minimise any conflict. If you’re looking for additional support but don’t want or can’t afford to engage legal assistance, Sharyn explains that mediation can be a good option.
“Here at the Family Relationship Centre, we offer neutral, child-focused mediation and dispute resolution services that help couples make decisions about their family’s future that are in the best interest of everyone involved, especially children,” Sharyn says.
- Maintain Consistent Rules and Discipline
Consistency in rules and discipline is crucial for children’s stability and understanding of boundaries. Where possible, you and your co-parent should work together to establish consistent expectations and consequences across households. This will help children adapt to the new family dynamic, maintain a sense of structure and foster a positive relationship with you both.
- Encourage Children to Express their Emotions in Positive Ways
It is completely normal for your children to experience a wide range of emotions throughout the separation process. Emotions could include sadness, anger and confusion. Encourage your children to talk openly about their feelings and express them in healthy ways such as with art, journaling, dancing, or talking with a trusted adult. Validate their emotions and reassure them that what they’re feeling is completely normal.
- Collaborative Co-parenting
Successful co-parenting requires collaboration and effective communication between parents. Make sure to keep lines of communication open with your co-parent, focusing on the children’s best interests. Strive for consistency in parenting styles and avoid contradicting each other’s rules. Demonstrating respect and cooperation will create a more stable and nurturing environment for children. In instances where collaborative co-parenting and maintaining an amicable relationship with your co-parent may seem impossible, Sharyn advises that seeking mediation assistance, like that provided by the Family Relationship Centre, can be extremely helpful.
“At the FRC, we work with both parties to help prevent conflict, encourage agreement instead of litigation and promote the right for children to have meaningful relationships with both parents,” she says. “You don’t have to be best friends with your co-parent, but if you’re able to be prepared to communicate and cooperate for the sake of your children, it will benefit them greatly in the long-term.”
Separation and divorce is undoubtedly a difficult experience for all involved, but with the right strategies and support, you can help your children navigate this challenging journey. If you would like to learn more about the services provided by the Family Relationship Centre, or book a free initial consult, visit: https://catholiccarecq.com/family-relationship-centre/