What Families Can Do
a guide for separated parents and families
Telling Your Children
What Parents Can Do
What Children Can Do
What Grandparents Can Do
AVENUE is the leading provider of Mediation, Counselling
and Child Contact in Northeast Scotland. We work
with everyone from children to grandparents and can support
you and your family through times of change, difficulties and
When you have separated from your partner, it can seem
impossible to make joint decisions for your children. This is
a particularly emotional time for all the family, so it’s often
difficult to see the wood for the trees. Our Family Mediators
are experts in listening and won’t judge you, whatever your
Our skills lie in asking the right questions at the right time to
reveal options you may not have considered and to help you
all get to where you want to go. Our work is based on sound
knowledge of what works and what doesn’t and we can help
you find the best approach. We will listen objectively and
help you to identify the changes needed to help you move
Telling Your Children
Telling your children you are separating can be extremely
upsetting for everyone. If you can do it with confidence and
without blame, reassuring them of your continued love, you’ll
be doing this difficult task well.
Children often feel worried and insecure if things are not
explained and parents can be anxious about their reaction.
The best approach will depend on the age and emotional
maturity of your children, how you’re getting on with their
other parent, and the circumstances leading up to the
Some Guiding Principles
Prepare yourself first by considering what to tell them.
They don’t need too many details; your perspective can
put their other parent in a bad light and your children may
feel stuck in the middle
Agree on what you’re going to tell the children; doing
it together helps them understand they still have the
love and support of both parents. If you’d rather do it
separately, that’s ok but try to tell them the same things
Rehearse what you are going to say. Children don’t
want to hear too many adult details but some kind of
explanation is important. Don’t blame each other in front
of the children
Try to work out how, when and where the children are
going to see both parents so they can start to envisage
what it’s going to be like
Tears and other displays of emotion are to be expected,
children need permission to grieve. Crying, anger, apathy
and denial are all normal reactions
Try to have some time together before either of you leave
the family home. This gives time for questions, feelings to
be expressed and reassurances given
If one parent leaves suddenly, try to give an explanation
that reassures the children and isn’t critical of the other
Whatever your circumstances, the children need to know
what is happening and how their parent’s separation will
affect their lives.
Some Lines To Practice
So you will probably have noticed that Mum and Dad
haven’t been getting on very well for quite some time so
we have decided to separate
Mum and Dad can’t find a way to be happy together.
We’ve tried to solve our differences, but very sadly we’ve
decided we can’t live together anymore
Sometimes we’ll all be sad and angry this had to happen,
but Mum and Dad have thought about this for a long time
and think this is the best thing to do
We will still be a family but it’ll be a different kind of family
Mum and Dad may disagree on things, but we both love
you and always will
It’s not your fault. Nothing you could have done could
have prevented our decision
We’ll all be a bit unsettled for a while as we get used to
things but it will get easier
we will both always love you
Good things may come out of this, like being able to spend
more time together once we reorganise ourselves
I didn’t want this to happen, but if Mum and Dad can’t
be happy together, staying together isn’t going to work,
however much I might want it
It is me who wants to separate and I know that makes
it hard for all of us. I’m so sorry this has happened but
please remember, I’m not leaving you
Mum and Dad sometimes see things differently; it’s not
that one of us is right and the other is wrong
What Parents Can Do
helping children cope
Children need to know they still have two parents who love
them and are able to look after them. They want to be
listened to and feel safe to express their emotions.
They should be kept out of parental conflict and allowed to
love all the people who are important two them:
Tell the children what is happening. Coping with change
is better than uncertainty and being open allows your
children to trust you
Listen to what worries the children; their worries will be
different from yours
Ensure the children get as much attention as they did
before. You will have practical concerns such as money
and housing so, if possible, ask someone else for help
Be consistent in your arrangements; children need to be
able to trust what you promise. Try to be flexible as rigid
arrangements become a duty not a pleasure
Remember that the children have and want both parents.
All parents have good and bad features, and the parent
who insults the other can be discredited in the eyes of
Allow your children to express their views. It doesn’t
mean giving them the responsibility for major decisions,
it means taking their wants and needs into account
Tell the school as teachers can provide support and
comfort when parents may be engrossed in their own
affairs. Difficulties may be noticed earlier if teachers are
aware of the situation
Support your children in their relationship with the other
parent, step parents or new partners. You are responsible
for making their life easier
Find a way to communicate with the other parent about
arrangements. Your children should not be responsible
for carrying messages
What Children Fear
Children are very intuitive and pick up on tension in their
environment. They need both parents to communicate and
help them to manage their fears.
Children are frightened by conflict; they may feel you are
unable to keep them safe
Relying on the court shows your children you are unable
to work together
If you make children feel bad about their other parent,
they will feel bad about themselves and they may end up
feeling bad about you
Children suffer if the parental rift means they lose
relationships that are important to them
What to Avoid
Expressing your grievances to your children; they will
become confused and uncertain by adult issues they
Succumbing to emotional blackmail from the children; if
you can’t afford something, say so and stick to it. Children
feel safer with established limits
children are afraid of conflict
Using the children as a focus for quarrels; continued
conflict can be harmful
Enlisting the children as allies in your fight against the
other parent. They need two parents and don’t want to
hear negative opinions about the other
Children don’t need to know everything about their
parent’s separation. What happened and who’s to blame
is not their concern. Children should be allowed to be
children, and not be burdened by adult issues.
What Children Can Do
a guide for young people
Family separation is a tough time for everyone, working
together can help make things easier. Everyone has a part
to play, school may be your most important responsibility or
your after school activities, music, sports, friends, part time
job or the family pet.
Think about your schedule; know what needs to happen
Share your schedule; agree with your parents what they
will do and what you will take care of. You could make a
Uniforms or sports kit; be clear in advance what you need
Cash; how much and when: school trips, sports fees,
equipment and so on
As this is a time of change, maybe there are things you can
do to help out. Almost any job that’s done with good will and
enthusiasm will be appreciated, whether you are at Mum’s
house or Dad’s.
f f take on a new job around the house, watering the plants
or mowing the lawn. Be proud of what you can do and
don’t worry about what you can’t
if you are doing home economics at school, you could
plan and prepare a family meal once a week
you might even get better packed lunches if you offer to
make them yourself
help save our planet by organising the recycling
Be realistic and only offer to do what you can
manage and what you feel confident doing
It’s not your responsibility to solve everyone’s problems, but
getting stuck into a worthwhile job can help take your mind
As this is a time of upheaval for all of you, it can be hard for
parents to figure out what you need. However, your parents
love you, so ask for their help.
Be as clear and specific as you can, general moaning is
not unreasonable, but may not achieve what you want.
If you can say ‘It would be good if….’ rather than ‘I hate it
when….’ others are more likely to listen.
Understand that all your family are going through changes
and may be dealing with very difficult feelings. Share your
feelings and try to give them room to deal with theirs.
Avoid getting caught up in arguments between your
parents. Don’t take sides, even if you are tempted; it isn’t
good for you or them.
Be clear that you don’t want to be a messenger; it’s not
your job. Your responsibility isn’t to make arrangements,
but to help make the arrangements work.
Your family may be facing money worries, so producing
an exhaustive wish list may not be the best plan.
Families who don’t live together find a way to move on and
be happy but it can take time
You may feel sad about your old family but hurt and angry
feelings do get mended.
Try to be hopeful and positive about the future, it has
What Grandparents Can Do
helping families cope
When parents separate it can affect all of the family but
grandparents can be a tremendous source of stability and
support for the children.
It’s hard not to get caught up in the middle of your family’s
problems, but try to remain neutral and maintain your
relationship with the children.
Help parents to see that, however angry they are with each
other, conflict is frightening for a child of any age and the
children need them both.
What Children Need
To know they still have a family who love them and will
look after them
To be listened to
To be allowed to be sad for what they have lost
To be kept out of their parents conflict
To be allowed to love all the people who are important
grandparents can offer tremendous stability
Listen to the Children
Encourage them to talk about the situation as they see it.
Their worries and fears may be very different from yours and
they need someone to understand what it’s like for them.
They may need to grieve for the family they had and express
their sadness or anger. It is more important that they feel able
to talk to you, not that you should have all the right answers.
Don’t Take Sides
Your role should be focused on the children. Always be
positive about both parents as children need them both and
don’t want to hear bad things about either. Children often
blame themselves for their parents separation and feel
confused about loyalty; avoid name calling and taking sides.
You can help to minimise any potential damage by ensuring
they don’t become an audience for conflict and complaints.
Stay in Touch
They need to know that you are thinking about them,
wherever you live. It’s important that parents understand
that you see yourself as a support for the children and they
need regular contact with you.
Find creative ways to keep in touch; Skype or other live
messaging can be fun, especially if using a webcam. Sharing
photos and news can be done through social media sites and
children also love receiving cards and letters.
You Do Have Rights
If pursuing your rights causes conflict between you and
either parent, it’s unlikely to produce the results you
want. You may have to compromise greatly in order to
keep in contact with the children. If you consider legal
action, it’s important to be realistic about the likelihood
of change. It could be more beneficial to emphasise that
your main goal is to be there for your grandchildren.
Communication and Compromise
Helping your family to do this has never been so important.
Use your wisdom and experience to help everyone avoid
criticism and blame. Family separation is difficult for everyone
and, even though you are hurting, your grandchildren will
always appreciate your love and support.
We know how difficult family breakdown and living in
separate homes can be. Parenting apart is challenging
but our free Parenting Apart sessions can help you to:
Understand what you and your children
are going through
Help your children cope
Plan for the future
You and your ex-partner attend different sessions so you
are able to address the things that are important to you.
Parenting Apart helps you to look to the future with
confidence and hope.
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