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Location: Home Relationship advice Relationship advice topics Managing Separation and Divorce Children and Separation

Children and Separation

When you make the decision to separate from your partner, a many questions will go through your head, one of which will probably be, "What about the children?"

  • How will you tell them?
  • What should you say?
  • When should it be done?

At a time when you are most vulnerable and unsure of yourself, you have a most difficult task to accomplish: you have to tell your children that you are separating. You know your children will be hurt, worried, confused and angry, and it's the last thing you want for them but it has to be done, and you will want to do it in the way that will create the least pain.

How your children react to your separation and adjust to it will depend upon several things:

  • how you cope with the break up and any ongoing relationships
  • the age and stage of development of the children
  • the temperament of the children - for instance, whether they tend to be easy-going or are somewhat anxious.

Children can

  • be surprised or shocked
  • grieve
  • feel they are to blame
  • fantasise that their parents will get back together
  • feel insecure and fear abandonment
  • start behaving differently (for example, become clingy or moody, wet the bed, not want to go school)


Children have to deal with a range of changes and adjustments as a result of their parents separating: changes in family lifestyle, rules and discipline. There may also be a lot of other changes, for example, a new house and a new school. Invariably a lot of adjustment is required. Although parents are often upset and confused at this time, it is important to try to understand what your children are going through and to consider their feelings as well.

Separation is a stressful period for children. Their adjustment and recovery is enhanced when parents remain sensitive to their children's needs.


“What about the Children?” is a booklet, available through Relationships Australia, that offers that hints to help you through this difficult time. It covers:

  • how you can cope with the break up
  • issues to discuss with the other parent
  • explaining the separation to the children
  • what behaviour to expect with children of different ages
  • what you can do to help children of different ages
  • ground rules for parenting successfully after separation
  • issues of safety
  • ten mistakes separated/divorced parents make


next section - Family Dispute Resolution Certificates

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