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Talking about your separation with your child

Thursday, July 9th, 2015

Many parents are afraid to touch on this subject with their children. However, it is OK for you and your child to be upset, it is important that you communicate effectively as your child starts to learn about your separation. If you do not communicate effectively, you are preventing your child from expressing their feelings, and most importantly, coming to terms with the separation. If your child discusses their feelings at an early stage, they are more likely to not try and deal with these feelings later on in life. If your child is left to deal with their own feelings as they grow up, your child may face relationship, friendship and family issues. Therefore, it is crucial that this is prevented.

Here are some factors to consider when talking and listening to your child/children:

Don’t hide from their distress

Separated parents often say that their children aren’t affected by the separation and are just fine. This is rarely the case. All children will be affected by family separation and will almost always need the opportunity to be able to be able to express how they feel.


Be aware that children hide their true feelings

Children are very good at gauging the emotional temperature around them. Children who see their mum and dad in distress will try to make sure that they don’t make things any worse. It’s up to you to reassure them that talking about their feelings is okay.


Help your children to open up

Some children will find it easy to talk about what’s going on for them but others will find it much more difficult. If you think that your child is burying their own experience, try giving them the signal that it’s okay to talk. Say something like ‘I’m feeling pretty sad today, how are you feeling?’ If they don’t seem ready to talk, don’t force it, but try again at a later date.


Validate their experience

It’s important that you validate a child’s feelings and experiences. If they tell you that they’re feeling sad, don’t try to persuade them that they don’t. Acknowledge how they’re feeling and invite them to tell you more about it.


Don’t interrogate

No one likes feeling like they are being interrogated. Try to be sensitive to your child’s experience and gently invite them to talk. Instead of saying ‘tell me what’s the matter’, try something like ‘you seem sad today’.


Use open questions

Younger children will often find it difficult to put their experiencing into words. Try using ‘open’ questions to get them to go a little further. Try phrases like ‘what do you think has made you feel like that’ or ‘tell me about how that makes you feel’.


Keep the opportunities open

Family separation is a series of transitions rather than a one off event. Don’t be in a hurry to close down the opportunities to talk. Give your child permission to keep exploring and expressing what’s going on for them.


Help young children to describe their feelings

Young children often don’t have the vocabulary or skills to tell you what they’re feeling. You can help them to express themselves through play and drawing. Small children will often simply draw the immediate world around them. Get them to tell you about their picture and work from there.


Take care with older boys

Older boys, particularly, can find it difficult to talk about their experiences and feelings. Try talking about things while you’re doing something else. Talking side by side without eye contact will feel much more comfortable for him and probably for you too.

Be prepared…

Lastly, be prepared to feel hurt, they may well tell you that it’s your fault that they’re feeling unhappy. Just let them say it.

Source: Separated Families

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