According to the UK Government, there are around 2.4 million separated families in Great Britain, with 3.5 million children involved (SOURCE: Estimates of the separated family population statistics: April 2014 to March 2018 – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) These numbers represent a large number of young people whose family and living arrangements will have changed, sometimes suddenly and often radically from what they were used to prior to their parents splitting up.
Having parents separate and get divorced can be a highly traumatic time for children and young people within the family unit. However, there is a lot that the couple that is parting ways can do to help young people understand and come to terms with what is happening. For example, the manner in which parents break up and establish methods and styles of communicating with each other can make a huge difference. As can how they behave and react to their situation in the days and weeks following the separation.
Handling things badly can often cause far more distress to young people involved than the fact of the separation itself. Here are five ways to help young people cope with the aftermath of their parents’ separation or divorce with as little stress and anxiety as possible.
- Communicate as a team
If possible, parents who have decided to split up and seek a divorce should talk to all young people or children who are involved together. This enables them both to work together on breaking the news and answering any immediate questions. Children can also talk about what they want to happen next. If parents do not feel like they would be able to do this without emotions running high, a family solicitor can arrange for a mediator to be present when children are told the news, in order to help keep things calm and facilitate healthy, productive discussion.
- Reassurance at every stage
The feelings and needs of the children involved must be top priority for everyone concerned. Depending on how old they are and how much they understand about the situation, children may feel upset, unsettled, guilty, angry or scared. Or a mixture of all the above. Give them a safe space in which to express their emotions safely and without judgement or coercion on either side. Let them know that their parents still love them and want the best for them regarding where and with whom they will live, where they will go to school, spend holidays, see friends and do their hobbies.
- Keep on top of the admin
Get all the legal paperwork associated with your divorce completed in good time for the deadlines. This helps keep everything in control and organised. Children fare much better when they know what is happening and have a rough timeline of events. Key to this is getting residency paperwork sorted quickly, along with parental responsibility forms, medical permissions, changes of schools etc. Make sure your Wills are updated and reflects what you want to happen to your assets and how your children should be cared for in the event of your death before they come of age. A family solicitor can arrange all of this for you to ensure that everything is correctly processed and legally binding.
- Stick to established routines
When a parental separation or divorce happens, it can change young people’s worlds dramatically and rapidly. By maintaining their normal routine as much as possible, you can provide them with some welcome stability at a time of flux and uncertainty. Try not to change their school too quickly, or rearrange hobbies etc. Do not introduce new partners too quickly, or expect them to immediately welcome them – as with any new relationship, it will take time for everyone to accept each other and get used to the new arrangements. Once the two parents have worked out access arrangements, stick to them. This will really help children and young people settle into their new way of living.
- Look after yourself too
Divorce is one of life’s most stressful experiences, so make sure that you are well-supported too. You cannot be as effective at helping your children cope with what is happening if you are not seeking the right kind of support for your own emotional and physical needs. Speak to your family solicitor to keep updated with what is happening – this will offer reassurance that things are progressing as planned. Don’t make too many large decisions too quickly, or all at once. Take the time you need to assess how you feel, where you want to go from here, and how you want your ongoing relationship with your children to evolve.