Jul 19 2023
Separation and divorce is a challenging situation for all those involved, but supporting your child’s mental health during the separation can help them adjust more quickly, and even foster a stronger sense of resilience. Before we begin, if you are going through a separation or divorce, know that you are still a good parent. You are here, doing your best to learn about ways to support your child’s mental health during a separation, and that means you are doing a great job. There are many ways you can support your child’s mental health during this separation period, and by providing your child with a loving and compassionate environment, you are well on your way to helping your child adjust to your new arrangement. Thank you for prioritizing your child’s well-being as you learn to navigate your new lifestyles, and know that whatever decision allows both parents to be their happiest selves in the long run is always what is best for your child, too. Now, let’s dive into the potential psychological impacts of a separation on your child’s mental health and how you can effectively mitigate them.
Encourage open and honest communication with your children by allowing them to express their feelings and concerns about the separation. Create a safe and non-judgmental environment where they feel comfortable sharing their emotions. Expect your child to experience a range of intense emotions, including sadness, anger, confusion, anxiety, and a sense of loss when their parents separate. They may struggle to understand the reasons behind the separation and feel overwhelmed by the changes and uncertainty in their lives. Children often internalize the separation and may blame themselves for their parents’ breakup. They may believe that their behavior or actions somehow caused the separation, leading to feelings of guilt, shame, and low self-esteem. When confronted with these emotions, reassure your child that there is nothing they could have done to prevent the separation because it has nothing to do with them, and that it doesn’t affect how you or your co-parent feel about them.
Separation often brings significant changes in a child’s daily routine, living arrangements, and family dynamics. These changes can disrupt their sense of stability and familiarity, leading to difficulties in adjusting to new routines, schools, or living environments. During a separation, children benefit from a sense of stability and predictability. Establish and maintain a consistent routine that includes regular mealtimes, bedtime rituals, and other familiar activities. This can provide a sense of security and help children adjust to the changes more effectively. The more aspects of their lives that stay the same, even small things like making their favorite meals or snacks, the more quickly they can adjust to the new arrangements. Stability and routines need to be maintained at both parent’s living environments, and the 2houses communication journal can help make co-parenting stress-free.
Children often blame themselves for their parents’ separation. Reassure them that the separation is not their fault and that both parents still love them unconditionally. Remind them that the separation is an issue between adults and does not change the love and support they receive from their parents. Sometimes, the emotional strain of separation can affect a child’s academic performance and social interactions. They may have difficulty concentrating in school, experience a decline in grades, or struggle with forming and maintaining friendships. If your child’s mental health declines during a separation, now is not the time to scold them for their grades. Rather, make sure they understand that you love them unconditionally, no matter what their grades are. Give your child lots of patience and understanding as they learn to adjust to various lifestyle changes and mental health impacts they may experience during a separation.
If the separation involves ongoing parental conflict, children may be exposed to arguments, tension, or negative communication between their parents. Witnessing or being caught in the middle of such conflicts is distressing for children and may impact their mental health, so do your best to keep conflict between you and your co-parent private. Minimize conflict and avoid negative discussions or arguments about the separation in front of your children. Exposing them to parental conflicts can be the most distressing part of a separation and impact their emotional well-being. Instead, strive for respectful and cooperative communication with your co-parent, especially in front of the children. Learn more about strategies for co-parenting with a high-conflict co-parent, here.
Following a separation, children may experience changes in their relationships with both parents, such as spending less time with one parent or having to adjust to new custody arrangements. These changes can affect their sense of security and attachment, potentially leading to emotional difficulties. A separation can alter the dynamics within the extended family as well, including relationships with grandparents, siblings, and other relatives. Children may experience changes in their support networks and need time to adjust to new family structures. If possible, support regular contact and healthy relationships with the other parent. Encourage visitation or quality time with the non-custodial parent and extended family, as long as it is safe and appropriate. Maintaining a positive and supportive co-parenting relationship can provide children with a sense of security and stability that is crucial to their mental health and well-being. Learn how to make a co-parenting schedule that works for your family, here.
Self-care is crucial during times of stress and upheaval. Engage in activities that help you relax and recharge, such as exercise, spending time with friends and family, pursuing hobbies, or seeking support from a therapist or support group. A good parent is a happy and healthy parent that has the emotional capacity to meet their child’s needs, because they are not pouring from an empty cup. Fill your cup with people, places and activities that relieve your stress and enable you to bring that joy back to your children. If they see that you are handling the separation well, they will be comforted and feel more inclined to feel the same way.
Remember that every child and family is unique, so it’s essential to tailor your approach to your children’s specific needs. Consulting with a qualified professional who specializes in child psychology or family therapy can provide more personalized guidance and support for your situation.
These resources can provide valuable information, support, and guidance for parents and families experiencing separation in Australia. If you have concerns about your child’s mental health, it’s always recommended to consult with a qualified mental health professional for personalized advice and support.
Kids Helpline: Kids Helpline is a free, confidential 24/7 counseling service for children and young people aged 5 to 25 in Australia. They offer phone counseling, web chat, and email support. Visit their website: https://kidshelpline.com.au/
ReachOut: ReachOut is an online mental health organization that provides information, tools, and support for young people and their parents. They offer resources on a wide range of topics, including separation and divorce. Visit their website: https://au.reachout.com/
Headspace: Headspace is a national youth mental health foundation in Australia. They provide mental health support, information, and services for young people aged 12 to 25 and their families. Visit their website: https://headspace.org.au/
Parentline: Parentline is a confidential telephone counseling service for parents and carers in Queensland and the Northern Territory. They provide support, guidance, and referrals for parents dealing with various parenting challenges. Visit their website: https://www.parentline.com.au/
Raising Children Network: The Raising Children Network is a comprehensive online resource providing evidence-based information and resources for parents and carers. They cover a wide range of topics, including child development, parenting, and mental health. Visit their website: https://raisingchildren.net.au/
Australian Psychological Society (APS): The APS is the leading professional association for psychologists in Australia. Their website offers a search feature to find psychologists in your area who specialize in child and family mental health. Visit their website: https://www.psychology.org.au/
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