Term one is almost over! It’s hard to believe another school year is well and truly under way. Unfortunately this is also one of the most common times that parents decide to separate.

Telling your kids you are separating can be one of the hardest things you will ever have to do as a parent. Below are some pointers which may help you prepare for that conversation:

  • Plan what you are going to say and practice. Make sure you both agree on what you will say so you don’t argue or contradict each other.
  • Have a family discussion in which both parents are present. If this is not possible, make sure you both agree on what you are going to tell them and say the same thing.
  • Be honest with you kids. Tell them as much information as they need to know but keep it simple. They don’t need to know the ins and outs of why you are separating, just telling them you don’t get along anymore should be enough.
  • Avoid blaming or putting the other parent down. Remember that saying negative things about your ex-partner is just as hurtful to your child as saying negative things to the child.
  • Let your kids know all the practical details. Explain where they will be living and with who; where the other parent will go to live; when the kids will see the other parent; and how often they can speak to the other parent on the phone. At the very least, reassure them that these things will be sorted out.
  • Paint them a picture of what life will be like. For example, “You will stay with me this week, then on Friday, Dad is going to pick you up from school and take you to his new place down the road. In the morning we’ll pack you some clothes…etc.”
  • Keep things as consistent as possible. This is a huge change for you kids and likely to make them feel unsafe and scared. As much as possible, keep routines and house rules similar as possible between houses to help your kids continue to feel that life is predictable and safe. 
  • Reassure them that you love them and the separation is not their fault. Kids will often blame themselves for your separation. Reassure them that they did nothing to cause it and that you both still love them very much. Reassure them that even though mum and dad are not going to be together anymore, you both will never leave the kids. 

Here are some examples to get you started:

“Your Mum/Dad and I have not been getting along very well. We have tried really hard to work things out, but we just can’t agree. We are not very happy living with each other anymore, so we are going to live in separate houses from now on. We both want you to know that this is not your fault. We both love you very much and think you are great kids.”

“You know that mum and dad have been fighting a lot lately and this is making us very unhappy. We have decided to live in separate houses. These are adutl problems and they are not your fault. We both love you very much and will always be your parents.”

  • Follow each statement up with reassurance that your children will still be loved, you still care for them, and you still want to spend time with them. Kids often think that their parents separation is their fault. Make sure they know that separation is an adult problem.
  • Allow your kids to express any emotions that they feel. Let them cry and get angry and recognise that these are all normal reactions. Kids need time to adjust to the news in their own way. Use reflective listening to help your kids feel understood.

It is important to remember that it can be better for children to experience a well managed separation than it is for them to continue living in an environment full of arguments and tension. Children need a safe, loving, secure and constant environment to grow up in if they are to thrive.

If you think your child needs help in coping with your separation or divorce please contact Play Therapy Melbourne to discuss how we can help you.

Play Therapy Melbourne has psychologists and counsellors who specialise in child counselling across Melbourne, including Eltham.