What to Tell Children When You Have Decided to Separate

Separating is never easy and agonising over what and how to tell children is often discussed in counselling. I thought it might be beneficial to share a few ideas with you to make the pain of this task a little easier.
What To Tell Children When Separating

  • Give them notice before moving. No specific timing, just when they’re a little ready. She said it is very ‘trendy’ for parents to do one week on/off but she doesn’t like it. The split week is much better.


  • A united front – offer the same explanation/story. No blame placed on either person even if more one sided for one person. Do not go into detail, just a general picture – also said not to say things like ‘we aren’t getting along’. Just say –

“We loved each other very much in the beginning and wanted to make our family always be together. We’ve made some mistakes and haven’t treated each other the right way. We’re going to live in different houses for a little while, and maybe if things don’t get better we’ll always live in different houses. If we do this, we think we will like each other better.”

  • The biggest thing is to make sure they know we are still a family and we will always and forever be a family. Not all families live together. It is important they receive consistent and sincere reassurance that it has nothing to do with them, and that the dissolution of the relationship is about mummy and daddy.


  • If your child asks specific questions do not tell the whole truth (that can come later in life when she is ready to understand it), especially if it means one person is inadvertently blamed. Causes stress to the kids, they’ll make things up in their head and think I have left them, causing irreversible damage. If you tell her that it was your decision to leave and that you still love your partner and didn’t want me to go and those types of things, they’ll more than likely hear ‘Daddy left me and doesn’t love me’.


  • Stress to the kids – that this is only between us and we love them and neither one of us is moving away from them. We will both still see them all the time. Explain what we’ll do and how it will all work. If they ever want to see or speak to the other parent they can at any time etc.


  • Specifically talk about positive things we know they’ll like to put a spin on the situation. Possible examples – they will have two rooms with new things, including a bunk bed. They’ll get double the Christmas presents, they’ll have a pool at their new house, they’ll still be going to the same school with their friends and there are no changes etc. Keeping the conversation positive.


  • At the end of the day the most important thing above anything else is to make sure parents are always careful how we speak about each other / how we interact with each other in their company. Constantly helping them to express their feelings and clear up misunderstandings to reassure them this has nothing to do with them and we love them. We will both be there always. Physical closeness.


  • Things to watch – the Disneyland factor – not to start taking them to special places etc all the time just because you’ve separated. Keep things the same as they were, go to the same places and discuss special outings before to agree on them (e.g. I want to take the kids to the zoo or a show etc). Discuss/agree on discipline – use of balls, charts etc is the same in each house and we’re both consistent.


Professional advice

There are services available to help family members work through difficult issues of conflict. Seek professional advice if you think you need some assistance.
Helen Reese has worked as a health practitioner for the past 30 years in hospitals, community settings, private organizations and with DEET and other public sectors. She also works in private practice with children, adolescents and adults in physical and psychological crisis. She has been counselling young people and adults for 25 years. Rewarding work comes with working with couples and post- natal Mums.
Having a Master of Counselling, being a Registered Nurse and with post graduate qualifications in Paediatrics, Hypnotherapy, Pain Management and Education she brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to her counseling and training.  Rebates are available under the mental health care plan, and free counselling may be available for those who are not working or caring for someone with a physical or mental health problem. PH 0400991346
www.counsellingservices.com.au or helenreese1@gmail.com
More articles from Helen:
The Year Ahead
How to Strengthen Your Relationship and Make Love Last after Children Arrive
Resolving Conflict in Families Around Holiday Time


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