Helping your child with separation

Children can feel many different emotions when their parents separate. It’s important to keep a close eye on them and help them deal with whatever feelings they are experiencing.

How children can react to separation

Like adults, children can feel many different emotions when their parents separate. They might feel angry, sad, worried, relieved, confused, guilty, embarrassed, or nervous.

Many children find it difficult to express these kinds of emotions. They may even keep their feelings from you on purpose. Especially if they can see you’re already upset and don’t want to make you feel worse.

The way children react to separation can also depend on their age.

Find out more about Dealing with your emotions.

Helping children with their feelings

Tell them what's happening. If you say nothing, your child may start to feel anxious and draw their own conclusions about the reasons for your separation, including blaming themselves. Think about the age of your child or children when you’re deciding what to tell them.

Comfort them. Regularly tell your child that both their parents love them, and that they’re not to blame for the separation.

Help them keep in touch with both parents (unless there is risk of harm). This could be a daily phone call or a weekly visit.

Create new routines – and stick to them. Children need routine and stability to feel safe and secure.

Ask them to tell you how they feel. Let them know you’re there for them whenever they want to talk.

Let them talk to someone else. They might find it easier to open up to a grandparent or other relative.

Be careful not to give mixed signals. Make it clear that the separation is for good, even though their other parent can be involved in their life.

Remain an adult. Do your best to keep your anger, hurt and other feelings about the separation away from your child, as you don’t want them to worry.

Accept that your child has another parent. Whatever you think of your child’s other parent, your child just sees mum or dad. Try to:

  • allow your child to talk about the other parent
  • speak respectfully about them and to them when your child is present
  • accept their role in your child’s life
  • make sure you share important information about your child with them.