Almost half of all divorced couples have children aged under 18 years. It’s an unsettling time and, unsurprisingly, children react to a family break-up in a variety of ways. Some kids will talk about their feelings but most, particularly younger children, will show how they feel through their behaviour.
It’s common for children to feel a sense of loss and powerlessness as the decision to separate is out of their control, and they are mourning the loss of the family unit they have probably known since birth. Children who have previously been confident and calm may seem anxious and want to stay close to their parents or carers. Some kids may get angry or get into fights more often than usual. Others try really hard to be good because they worry that if they misbehave their care-giver will leave them too.
In order to look after your kids, it’s important to look after yourself. Parents and carers who are coping with a separation are much more likely to have kids who cope. This can include seeking support from friends, family or professionals.
You can help your kids to cope by explaining the situation as it relates to them in age-appropriate ways – where they will live, where they will go to school, what will happen during the holidays. You can find out what is important to them by creating time to listen and hear their questions and concerns. Keep their routine as normal as possible to help them feel safe, and explain any changes that will affect them. Encourage them to talk about their feelings and be ready to listen. This can be difficult when you have strong feelings yourself so encourage your children to also talk to other, trusted adults who are more separate from the situation.
Most importantly, respect your children’s need to maintain their relationship with the other parent or carer, and avoid bad-mouthing them to your children. To manage the transition, you can:
- Reassure your children that both parents/carers will love and care for them.
- Provide extra support before and after children visit their other parent/carer.
- Give yourself and your kids time to adjust to the change – feelings of loss and grief take time to subside.
You may like to read more about supporting children's mental health when parents separate.
 Australian Bureau of Statistics (2012). 3310.0 - Marriages and Divorces, Australia, 2011.