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Tips on how to help children when you separate

Understandably parents worry about how separating will affect their children. You may have seen, or even experienced, how it can be done badly. How can you do it better?

Tell your children you both love them

Children are never too old to be told this. Don’t wait until you have all the answers and can spell out how the future looks. Make sure they know they’re safe and will always be cared for. This is hard when you may feel insecure yourself but your children need to be reassured that you will work through it and it will be ok.

Never criticise your former partner in front of the children

It can be tempting, but is unfair on your children. How many times have they been told ‘you are so like your mum (or dad)’? They may feel you don’t like them either.

Agree behaviour in front of children

Agree how you will act together to reduce the impact of your separation on your children. Treat each other with respect. Agree not to have any conversations about tricky stuff in front of them. Even if the other parent does not play ball Christina McGhee says ‘You might not be able to make it better but you can prevent it getting worse’

Listen to your children

Listen to how they feel. They could be feeling angry, frightened or worried. Don’t dive in with answers to the problem. Let them express themselves. Even if it is painful for you. With younger children they may use drawings. With older children they may start talking on a car journey when no one is facing each other. Ideally choose a time when both you and the children are feeling happy and not tired. Is there anyone else they may talk to? Let them have that space to talk if it is safe for them.

Do not use your children as messengers

Don’t put them in the middle. If you need to speak to your former partner about something, you should do it yourself. What do you want to achieve by the communication? Plan it, keep it focussed and keep to the script. If you are talking about what your partner did or said in the past the chances are that it is not helpful! If it is too hard for you to talk face to face, then write a letter or email and do it with care.

Children first – even when it is hard

Sharing your children’s time with someone else is hard. You might think you are doing the best for your child asking for or denying time. But if you want a good relationship with your grown up child make their childhood look as good as you can when they look back at it. Statistics show that children who continue to have a positive relationship with both parents will have a better start to life, do better at school and stay out of trouble. Some give and take on ‘time’ to achieve for your children the best relationship with both of you, without a backdrop of conflict may be the most important gift you can give them. You often hear people say that they would take a bullet for their child - Treat this as your bullet!  As long as they are safe let them enjoy their own relationship with each of you – it might not be perfect – and you might see flaws - but it is theirs to have.

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Are you in need of a Family Lawyer? Amphlett Lissimore has offices across South London and are proud to be members of Resolution. We are committed to resolving disputes in a non-confrontational way whenever this is possible, and believe this to be in the long-term best interests for you and your family. If you would like to know more visit our Family Law page or call us on 020 8771 5254.

About the Author

Liz Edwards is a partner at Amphlett Lissimore, and a former National Chair of Resolution. Liz specialises in Family Law, is a Family Arbitrator and trained Mediator, based at our Bromley office.

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