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How to support your child through a separation or divorce

How to support your child through a separation or divorce

Cecilia Corbetta headshot

Cecilia Corbetta

Head of Parenting – Cecilia is a BACP accredited counsellor, clinical supervisor and parenting coach with over 20 years of experience delivering counselling, therapeutic services and supervision within schools and private practice. She joined Place2Be in 2003 and is incredibly passionate about supporting parents and carers to achieve the best possible outcomes for children.

Many parents will separate at some point in their child’s life. But with the right support from both parents, children are often able to thrive despite the change in a family setup. Our Regional Clinical Lead, Cecilia Corbetta, shares some advice for parents on how to support children through this unsettling and potentially difficult life event.

1. Acknowledge your feelings and find ways to look after yourself

This is really important as it will help you manage your emotions and allow you to focus on your child. Everything about separation can be difficult and emotional. Make sure you are getting the support you need from other adults.

Sometimes he goes upstairs and he cries for my mum – he goes and lies on my mum’s side and he cuddles the pillows that she used to lie on. I don’t like seeing him cuddling into the pillows and crying. Lindsay, 8

2. Make sure you never put your child in the middle

Don’t argue and fight with your ex in front of them. Don’t ask them to pass on messages or choose between the adults. It’s not easy to keep to that at such an emotional time. Most of us going through separation have trouble thinking straight. Make it easier by planning some tactics to help in advance.

I did have a photo of my dad on my bedside, but she asked if I could put it away. I don’t know where it is. I think maybe my mum threw it away. I wish I still had it. Anneliese, 9

3. Unless it is unsafe, make it easy for your child to stay connected to your ex

Your child will often find it hard to work out whether they should talk to you about your ex. Make space for them to be able to talk about how they love them. Don’t shut them down. If it is safe, make it easy for them to contact your ex. It can be very hard on you. But it can also make a huge difference to your child feeling secure and supported.

I didn’t know if I would see my dad anymore. I was worried that my dad might change his number so my mum couldn’t get it. So I worried quite a bit. Luca, 10

4. Find time and space to listen to them

Your child might be scared to show you how they feel. It’s your job to reassure them and encourage them to speak up. Say things like “It’s ok to cry” and “It’s not your fault”. Encourage them to ask questions. Respond as simply as you can. Focus on the parts that are most important to them – how their life will change, where they will live. Try and have simple answers for when they ask why your relationship has broken down – they don’t need the details.

I found out my parents were splitting up when my mum found a new house and we went to look at it. Nobody talked to me. It just happened. Hannah, 8

5. Once you are separated, try to work as a team with your co-parent

Look at the co-parenting arrangements from the children’s perspective. Take the focus away from you and your co-parent’s feelings. Try to set ground rules in advance to avoid conflict later. For example, you will need to agree on when and where your children will visit, and how the parent living apart keeps in touch between visits. Children benefit in many ways when they get support from both parents. It helps if they can see you working well together to parent.

It would be better if my parents sometimes saw each other or if we could go out for a meal or something so we could all be together and have a laugh. Lindsay, 8

Other resources you may find useful:


Place2Be is supporting The Parents Promise – a campaign asking parents to make a commitment to do what’s best for the long-term wellbeing and mental health of their children, should their relationship break down. Find out more and show your support.

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