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Lizzie Hill: Supporting children after parental breakdown

By OnePlusOne, 11 November 2014 Children, Divorce

In this article Lizzie Hill,  art therapist at Local Counselling Centre, and specialist in working with children, young people and families, shares some thoughts about children’s needs following parental breakdown.

When parents separate, children need time and space to work out what they feel and think. Many children worry that sharing their feelings with parents will add to existing upset, or be seen as siding with one parent over another.

It can be painful, but useful, for you to recognise that sometimes children prefer to speak to other people, outside the family, about what has happened. There may be trusted family friends who can play this important ‘neutral’ role, or you may wish to consider securing support from a professional therapist or counsellor, who can give your child a safe and non-judgemental space.

Sometimes other people may notice that your child is dealing with something big. Teachers or other professionals who know your child well may pick up on a change in behaviour or mood, or your child might tell them what is happening. The realisation that your separation is spilling into other parts of your child’s life can result in feelings of horror, guilt and inadequacy, which you need to try to work through. Try to be open to other people’s views regarding your child: they might have good ideas about what could help. Showing your child that you are thinking calmly and constructively about them, with other concerned adults, can be immensely valuable, especially if the recent parental relationship has been underpinned by conflict and disagreement.

Knowing that you are on good terms with their teacher or other school staff, will give your child further reassurance.

When there are changes in family structure, the routine and consistency of school can be a stabilising factor. Children can worry about breaking family confidences: giving permission and reassuring your child that it is OK to talk to people at school, if they find it helpful, can be a real relief. Knowing that you are on good terms with their teacher or other school staff, will give your child further reassurance.

Children need to know that they continue to be loved by both parents. Putting extra effort into being reliable, and providing consistent arrangements and schedules, gives children reassurance and feelings of security. When a relationship breaks down, painful feelings can make working together with your ex-partner—to  agree and manage routines and arrangements for your child—extremely difficult. It may be that you and your ex-partner could benefit from professional support to help you think together about how to move forward as co-parents, and continue to provide a consistent, stable environment for your children.

Research shows that for parents who work on increasing their skills in collaborating and problem solving together, there are also reduced levels of conflict and overall impact on the children; these children are better placed to recover from their parent’s break up. A parenting plan such as Splitting Up? Put Kids First can also help parents struggling to communicate and compromise.

Remember that your child has needs and interests outside the family

Remember that your child has needs and interests outside the family: seeing friends, going to sleepovers and parties, being involved in clubs and sport. It is important that these continue to be encouraged and don’t get sacrificed because of the time pressures of a co-parenting schedule, or your wish to spend more time with your child. Supporting your child’s play, friendships and opportunities – regardless of changes in family structure – will contribute to  their resilience and overall emotional wellbeing.

If you are experiencing the break down of your relationship and need support for yourself or your child contact Kathy Saunders, Practice Manager at Local Counselling Centre on 01462 674671 or For more information go to




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