When parents decide to separate without a clear intention of divorcing, children are worried and confused. It's unclear how much to tell them depending on their ages especially because the spouses aren't clear themselves what's ahead. However, when one parent moves out of the house, something must be said to give the kids a feeling of trust and security while they deeply feel uncertainty about their lives and their parents futures.
Tips On Talking To Kids About Separation
1. Some kids are not surprised by the announcement of separation. They've been observing their parents distancing themselves from each other quietly or loudly with arguments. However the announcement may clarify their fears, it is deeply unsettling and questions need to be answered.
2. Other kids are shocked and dismayed and thrown into crisis mode. The main question they usually have is who is going to take care of them.
3. It's essential that the parent who is moving out be absolutely clear on when and how he or she will see the children.
4. It's essential that the children know it's not their fault in any way.
5. It's important that the parents do not blame each other in front of the children leading the kids to be faced with loyalty conflicts.
6. If the future is uncertain, this needs to be said. The kids have to be told this even though it will make them uneasy and lead to immediate fantasies of their parents getting back together (which they might or might not).
7. Talk with kids about living with uncertainty. Explain that their daily lives will continue with the same routines in the household they are living in.
8. Parents must keep their communication about their children continuous. They must know when and where the kids have their activities just as if they were in one household.
9. Different parents find communication easier by email, text, or phone. Be forewarned however that email and texting often lead to misinterpretations and assumptions that may not be cleared up leading to a great deal of confusion.
10. Remember that under all circumstances the kids come first. Their feelings, beliefs, and worries must be taken very seriously and attended to immediately to forestall more uncertainty than is necessary.
In other words, separating parents are creating a great disruption in their kids emotional lives. The separation may be a good decision for the parents but for the kids, they may have trouble seeing it that way depending on how much they observed prior to the announcement.
Some kids are actually relieved to no longer see the quarrels and arguments between their parents and find some solace in some new normalcy. Others can't accept this eventuality and continue to try to persuade their parents not to proceed. Either way, their sense of safety is marred and inconclusive. This is why it's so significant to state very clearly that each parent is still available to each child and the various ways they will communicate.
Parental empathy is the key to a child's sense of safety and security. While the adults are clearly in emotional turmoil, they need to be able to set their feelings aside temporarily to empathize with each child's reactions and fears. Keeping open communication with each child, having daily conversations about their lives and keeping routines as usual helps a great deal while even strengthening each child-parent relationship.
Laurie Hollman, Ph.D., is a psychoanalyst and author of Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child's Behavior found on Amazon and wherever books are sold. Visit her website: www.lauriehollmanphd.com.