When parents decide to live apart, a child can feel as if their world has been turned upside down. However, the level of upset the child feels can vary depending on how their parents separated and how much they understand, and the support they get from parents, family and friends.
Separation of parents leave a psychological wound to children because a child may feel a sense of loss not only of losing a home, but also of losing a whole way of life. The child may feel rejected, insecure, fearful of being left alone and torn between both parents.
These feelings are often worsened by the fact that many children need to move home and sometimes school. Despite a very tense or violent parental relationship, children may still have mixed feelings about the separation. Many children hold onto a wish that their parents may get back together. Therefore, whatever has gone wrong with the relationship, both parents still have a very important role to play in their child’s life.
Emotional and behavioral problems are more common when parents are separated. Children can become very insecure and cause them to behave like they are much younger and therefore nightmares, worries or disobedience can all occur. However, we can help our children by making sure that the children know they still have two parents who love them, and will continue to care for them; protect them from adult worries and responsibilities; and making it clear that it’s not their fault if the marriage did not work.
As parents, we need to be:
1. open in telling our child what’s going on with the family and reassure them that they will still be loved and cared for by both parents;
2. have time to spend with our child;
3. interested in our child’s views, but make it clear that parents are responsible for the decisions;
4. consistent with our usual activities and routines, like seeing members of the extended family;
5. making as few changes as possible to help our child feel that, in spite of the difficulties, life can still be reasonably normal because both parents love them; and
6. never ever ask our children to take sides, it would confuse them more.
If managed effectively, most children can adapt well to their new circumstances despite the psychological trauma caused by the separation. But, if it is really difficult to help our child cope, we need to seek for a professional help, preferably from a psychologist.