Helping your child cope with separation and divorce

When parents split up, there will be many changes that happen during and after that children will feel anxious about. It is important that you consider what you can do to reduce the impact on your child.

Your child's reaction to the separation

Children will have different reactions to your separation. Signs that your child may be finding your separation or divorce particularly difficult to cope with can include:

  • Becoming withdrawn
  • Bedwetting
  • Blaming themselves
  • Staying out all hours and avoiding coming home
  • Being distracted from doing school work
  • Getting into trouble at school or with the police
  • Experimenting with drugs and alcohol
  • Bullying and becoming aggressive

What you can suggest they do:

  • Talk to someone they trust from outside the home like their teacher, a school counsellor, a youth worker or a family friend
  • Take up a new interest, activity or sport
  • Keep in touch with their wider family like their cousins or grandparents

Your child may also benefit from counselling either online or face to face, details can be found through the Family Information Service Directory.

How you can help your child after a separation

Most children will find it hard after their parents separate, but there is a lot you can do to minimise their emotional distress. The video below shows how important it is to not expose your child to any disagreements with your ex-partner.

You can also help your child by:

  • Agreeing on discipline and routines in both parents' households as much as is possible
  • Plan and agree visits with the parent they don't live with and stick to them
  • Avoid blaming or criticising your ex-partner and work together
  • Reassure your child that they are still loved
  • Explain to your child that the breakdown is not their fault
  • Listen to how they feel

This video provides advice how to get on with an ex-partner:

Support when communication is difficult

There will be some family situations where it is not possible to maintain communication. The following services can help in these circumstances:

  • Relate has information for families in a variety of circumstances that have led to separation on their dealing with children's feelings and behaviour webpages
  • Surrey Family and Mediation Service can help separated parents to come to an agreement about practical matters affecting their children, such as visitation of the non-resident parent
  • Surrey Against Domestic Abuse is a service that supports adults and children who have experienced domestic abuse. When there has been domestic abuse in a family, there can be difficult decisions to make about what is in the best interests of the child, such as maintaining contact with the abusive parent
  • Cafcass looks after the interests of children involved in family proceedings and will advise the court on the best interests of the children.

Where you can get help with contact

If there has been a significant breakdown in communication between you and your ex-partner, you may wish to access support to help your child spend time with both of you.

Child Contact Centres allow parents or family members to visit and spend quality time with a child that does not live with them

The National Association of Child Contact Centres explains the difference between supervised and supported visits.

Find your nearest Child Contact Centre can be used to find a local registered Child Contact Centre.

To use a Child Contact Centre, families usually need to be referred by a service or professional, such as Children's Services or a solicitor. Some centres will accept referrals from parents directly. You should phone the centre you are interested in using to check how you can be referred to them.