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Supporting Children through separation and divorce.

Separation/ Divorce — admin @ 7:41 pm

Here at Counselling Connections this week we have been talking about separation. We have been speaking in particular about how to help children to negotiate their way through the separation of their parents. This is an issue that comes up in our work on a daily basis and includes the full range of participants in a family break up. We see couples and individuals who are going through or have gone through a separation. This often involves a subsequent divorce. We see children of differing ages who are trying to come to terms with the breakup of their parents’ relationship. We also see the aftermath with adult children of separated or divorced parents reflecting on their childhood experiences. Grandparents also feel the effects of separation involving children and grandchildren.

There are some actions that parents can take that will help children to deal with separation and divorce and the changes that these bring about. This first thing is to keep lines of communication open. It is important that parents keep their children informed in an age appropriate manner. Children will notice changes and wonder what is going on and it is reassuring to be told what is happening. Children will be better able to deal with changes in living arrangements if they have been told what is going to happen in advance. This can include being involved in viewing and furnishing a new house if that is what is happening.

On a more fundamental level is the truth of what is happening between mammy and daddy. Again, it is important to try to be as honest as possible without burdening the child with too much information. Age appropriate communication with children can include the clarification of the difference between parents no longer loving each other while each still loves the children. A child may come to believe that they are in some way responsible for their parents breakup and it is important to reassure them that this is not the case. Children will feel reassured if they know that each parent still loves them and will remain a big part of their lives after the separation. Extended family have a role to play too and maintaining contact with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins keeps a level of familiarity in the child’s changing emotional landscape.

It is a general rule of thumb that children will do well when parents co-operate in their upbringing. In a post separation situation it is useful if the parents devise a way of communicating with each other about what is going on in their children’s lives. If the parents find it difficult to speak with each other a system of regular email or other communication can work well. It is reassuring for a child if each parent is kept up to date with issues that may arise in school or with friends. It also helps a child through a separation when each parent gives the same message. Children may harbour hope of reconciliation between their parents and look for differences in the parents’ attitudes. A consistent message delivered gently by each parent will help the child to gradually come to terms with the reality of the breakup.

One of the key things is for each parent to speak respectfully of the other. This may not reflect how they really feel but what is asked of a parent here is to put the interests of the child first. There may be any amount of unresolved emotional issues between the parents but these should not be communicated through the children. Open conflict, arguments or shouting are very stressful for children. It hardly needs us to say it but it is harmful to children if they become enlisted in a battle between their parents. As a parent it is important to find a space where your own feelings about the breakup of your relationship can be expressed and understood. We hope that this would prevent a situation where feelings of anger, resentment or a thirst for revenge are expressed using the children. It is possible to continue to well do well following separation and divorce if each family member can remain understanding of the other’s and especially the children’s ongoing emotional needs.

Counselling Connections, Dundalk.

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