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How To Help My Child After Separation

How To Help My Child After Separation

What might I expect to see in my pre–school child following separation?

  • Pre-school children may become tearful, withdrawn or begin to have tantrums (more than usual).
  • Nightmares and/or bedwetting (if the child has been toilet trained).
  • Difficulty with toilet training.
  • They may show signs of regressing in their skills, for example: they may ask for a bottle of milk, want dummies or want you to rock them like a baby to sleep. They may start to “babble” rather than use words (if they have had speech previously). Avoid telling your child to stop this behaviour.
  • Children of this age can become clingy and distressed when leaving their main care giver.
  • Mimic the emotional behaviour of adults around them.
  • Can experience the feeling that their parents are cross with them but be unable to explain why.
  • May appear reluctant to visit the “absent” parent or to return to the “resident parent”.

During this time it is particularly important to:

  • Create security for your child.
  • Be consistent with your child, stick to routine and familiar boundaries. Young children particularly thrive on routine.
  • Keep contact with an absent parent little but often to start with. This is especially important if you feel that your child is having difficulty coping. This will allow the resident parent to adjust to the child spending time with the non-resident parent away from the main household.
What might I expect to see in my five to seven year old following separation?
  • Curiosity which frequently causes them to test boundaries.
  • Difficulty in managing their emotions and will experience (toddler like) tantrums.
  • Inability to think beyond themselves. They won’t be able to consider why their tantrum has made you cross or why you and your ex-partner may no longer get along.
  • Your child may begin to experience more difficulty with their friends for example they may fall out, have more arguments and or report that other children are being unkind.
  • Children at this age may also try to get their parents back together by any means possible. They may feign illness to get you both in the same room.
  • Some children at this stage experience difficulty with transitions, they may show distress crying and clinging to one parent.
  • Children may experience a sense of guilt when spending time with either parent.

During this time it is particularly important to:

  • Set clear rules and boundaries set which are consistent across places where children spend their time (as far as possible).
  • Be patient and support your child to describe and name how they are feeling.
  • Demonstrate the ability to cope with and manage during difficult times (both parents).


What might I expect to see in seven to twelve year old following separation?

  • Expressing an interest in the detail of the separation as they try to make sense of and understand what has happened.
  • Expressing more concern with the practical aspects of a separation such as where they might live, what their room will be like. They will be interested in the things that may change.
  • Feelings of guilt and blame. Worrying the separation is their fault.
  • A greater sense of sadness than younger children.
  • Worry about being rejected by one or both parents.
  • They may choose to side with one or the other parent, they do not have the emotional maturity to be able to appreciate both parents have responsibility for a relationship.
  • Appearing to want to grow very quickly, taking on some more responsibilities for household chores for example.
  • They may start to try to take on a parenting role with younger children or even with you as a parent.
  • They may experience physical complaints such as tummy pain, headaches, reassure your child that this can be a typical response to changes in circumstances.

During this time it is particularly important to:

  • Talk to your child about what has happened. But remember that your child has one foot in childhood and the other in adolescence, this can be a very scary (and exciting) place!
  • Not discuss details with your child about the reason for separation but agree as co-parents where possible what you are prepared to share. Consistency in your story is important, detail is not.