Family conflict whether before during or after separation or divorce, is particularly stressful for children, who may respond by becoming anxious aggressive or withdrawn. Children find conflict difficult and very distressing and it is very important to keep children away from it.
One of the most damaging things is when parents use children as go-between. It is important to avoid that kind of conflict. Children can recover from their separation or divorce if it was settled amicably and with understanding. Where parents argue or use their children as pawns in their games this can cause tremendous damage.
Children and parents should have access to professional support at the time of separation. Help for parents going through a separation will make it easier for them to help their children. If children are to be protected against the kind of disadvantages identified by research then they and their parents will need better information and support before, during and after separation.
Children and adolescents can be caught up in their parents conflict, the consequences include:
- Children can experience a huge sense of loss.
- They often feel abnormal, with an abnormal family.
- Anger with one or other or both parents for the split-up.
- They sometimes feel that they are responsible for their parents split-up.
- They often feel a sense of rejection.
- They may feel a longing for a return to normality with both parents living together.
- Some children, when the marriage or partnership has been hostile or violent, may be relieved or have mixed feelings when it finally ends.
Problems that may result from the child or adolescent being brought into their parents fighting and distress
- Children often feel torn because loyalty to one parent may be seen as betrayal by the other.
- Some children or Adolescents feel that they are not allowed to love both parents or be loved by both.
- Sometimes the children or Adolescents can identify with the parent who is at fault.
- Very often Children can be used as a weapon by one parent or other.
- Living with a parent who is so consumed with anger or distressed, that there is no one offering the children much parenting or support.
The Principles Guiding Separating or Divorcing Parents
- Openness and communication so that the children or adolescents not only knows what is going on, but feels it is ok to ask questions.
- Reassurance that he or she is still loved by both parents and will be cared for.
- Parents making time to be available to the child or Adolescent.
- Conveying to the children clearly that while the parents are interested in the child’s view, it is they who are responsible for decisions.
- Continuing the usual activities and routines eg Seeing friends and members of the extended family, and making as little changes as possible this helps the child to feel life can continue as normal, and provides support for the children or adolescents.
How can parents help their child or adolescent
- It is important for parents who are splitting up to ensure that they continue to have an ongoing relationship with his or her partner so that they can deal with parenting issues.
- The parents must take on the responsibility for what is happening as theirs and be clear about this to the young person.
- Parents must regard their role as protecting their children from adult matters and adult responsibilities.
- Parents need to be sensitive to how each child may be affected,and how he or she may be feeling or reacting.
- It is important for parents to consider ways of minimising the trauma for the child, and to make sure they feel safe, secure and confident that problems can be sorted.
- Parents need to discuss between themselves how issues between them may be affecting the children.
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