Divorce or separation can be an emotionally charged situation for all concerned, but it can affect a child’s emotional wellbeing especially.
A child experiencing a parental separation may feel scared about what will happen to them, be worried that they’re not going to be able to see one parent any more or be unhappy at the thought of potentially having to move into a different home.
Children often pick up on a lot more than we give them credit for, which is why it’s so important to create a safe, supportive environment while they navigate the consequences of the decision to separate.
What is emotional wellbeing?
Emotional wellbeing refers to the state of being emotionally balanced and having the ability to cope with the ups and downs that life can throw at us.
An example of good emotional wellbeing for children is the ability to understand and express their emotions in a healthy way while building positive relationships with themselves and others.
The World Health Organisation classifies emotional wellbeing as comprising of four dimensions. Those dimensions are social, physical, spiritual, and intellectual wellbeing. Each of these dimensions is equally important and all need to be balanced for an individual (including a child) to have emotional wellbeing.
How is a child’s emotional wellbeing affected during family divorces?
A divorce or separation can have a huge impact on the day-to-day lives of any children involved.
Each child is likely to have a very different response to the reality of their parents separating. Some children may understand the need to separate and be able to cope with the change in circumstances, while others may be plagued with feelings of guilt and unease about what will come next.
Some of the ways that a child’s emotional wellbeing could be affected during a family divorce include:
- Feeling guilty or blaming themselves for their parent’s separation.
- Feeling anxious and insecure about the future.
- Feelings of anger and frustration can affect their behaviour and their relationship with one or both parents.
- Behavioural issues may arise as a result of the emotional distress the separation has caused.
- They may become depressed and withdrawal as they deal with the breakdown of the family unit.
How to create a supportive environment for children during parental separation
It can be hard for children to cope with the changes and emotions that come with parental separation, but creating a supportive environment can help to minimise feelings of distress and anger.
Here are some of the ways that you can build a supportive environment for your children if you’re navigating a separation.
1. Be honest about what’s happening
Open and honest communication between the parents and children during a divorce or separation is extremely important. Children are often more perceptive than we realise and can pick up on things going on around them. This means if you try to hide the situation from them, it can serve to amplify some of the issues they face.
When you are able to do so, sit your children down and communicate to them what’s happening in an age-appropriate matter. Without blaming them or forcing them to take sides, clearly explain the situation, what it will mean for them, and what changes they can expect.
2. Maintain stability through routine
Although things may be changing, maintaining as normal routine as possible can be reassuring. Keeping the basics of their day the same where possible– such as having breakfast together, going to school, going on playdates with friends, and having family time in the evening –can do a lot to improve their emotional wellbeing.
3. Avoid arguments in front of your children
Regardless of how disruptive or unpleasant your separation is, it’s important to minimise conflict in front of your children. Witnessing arguments between parents can be highly distressing for children.
4. Encourage your children to express their feelings
Feelings can be a hard thing to grapple with as a child, so creating a space where they feel they are able to fully be themselves and express their emotions is incredibly important.
If your children aren’t able or willing to talk about their feelings openly, you can also try getting them to express themselves through art or play; both valuable activities that can help them to process their feelings.
If you’re currently going through a separation or divorce, our experienced team of family solicitors can provide practical support and guidance. Get in touch to find out more.