ChildLine and the Your Family parenting website have joined forces on National Divorce Day (5 January 2009) to help parents put children first when separating.
An estimated 117,000 children see their parents divorce each year and the new year is the time when unhappy couples are most likely to contact lawyers about ending a marriage.
Head of ChildLine Sue Minto said: “Divorcing parents can be overwhelmed by feelings like anger, sadness, and helplessness. This often makes it hard to focus on the wishes and needs of scared and bewildered children whose lives are about to be turned upside down. ”
“Parental separation is a crisis for children as well as adults. Children suffer deeply when the adults they love fall into conflict. They are deeply upset by the hurt, pain and confusion of divorce. ”
“Children often phone ChildLine when their families are in turmoil. They tell counsellors about being scared by arguments, feeling they are being forced to choose between mum and dad or that the break-up is their fault. Children can be helped to adjust to the changes happening around them if parents take the time to explain how much they are loved and that whatever happens is not their fault.”
At least one child a day calls ChildLine upset about parents arguments.(3) Children have told ChildLine:
“Mum doesn’t trust Dad and makes me spy on him and tell her what he’s been doing. The stress of it is making me ill and made me lose loads of friends.” (Girl aged 16)
“My parents where arguing about me today. I think they might separate because of me.” (Girl aged 9)
“Mum and Dad split up. Since then I feel like they’ve used me as a go between in their arguments. Mum and Dad don’t speak to each other and I am expected to pass on messages.” (Girl aged 16)
To help families during this difficult time, NSPCC which runs ChildLine has produced some new advice to help parents shield their children from the affects of divorce.
YourFamily.org.uk tips for divorcing parents
• Say “I love you” – tell children how much you love them. It sounds obvious but children of all ages need extra reassurance if they feel their family is falling apart and they will be separated from loved ones.
• Listen up – listen to children and comfort them if they are upset or worried. When you are caught up in your own emotional turmoil, it can be easy to forget the feelings of those around you.
• Keep talking – reinforce the fact that the split is not their fault.
• Be honest – while children do not need to be involved in every detail of a divorce, it’s important to be as honest as possible about what happened and what’s going to happen while providing as much reassurance as possible.
• Keep a routine – try and keep the day to day schedule as normal as possible. Introduce the changes slowly and talk any changes through with your children.
• Family time – make sure both parents have as much time as practical to spend with the children unless there are obvious reasons why this would be dangerous such as a partner with drink or drug problems.
• Home sweet home – if your children come to visit you in your new home, make sure there are some familiar items there such as toys or posters for the bedroom. This will help reinforce that you are still a big part of their lives.
• Share the load – when appropriate, try and share out the child care responsibilities between both parties so children can see that both parents are still very involved in family life.
• Keep some things to your self –don’t criticise your partner in front of the children or alienate them from him/her. Whatever has happened between you, your children will still love both parents equally.
• Phone a friend – find someone you trust to talk to about what’s happening in your life. It’s very difficult to bottle up the hurt and having a friend to talk to means you are less likely to let off steam in front of the children.
• Remember the little things – children may be very worried about seemingly minor things like what is going to happen to their pet or will they see their friends. It’s important to recognise these are important to children.
• Get a second opinion – children often find it difficult to articulate their feelings, especially younger children. Look for signs in their behaviour to keep a track of how they are dealing with the split. Ask friends, families and teachers to keep an eye on your child’s behaviour too. When you are dealing with your own feelings of grief, it can be hard to spot the often subtle signs your child may be giving out.
For information help and advice, go to www.YourFamily.org.uk