Breakups and Children

As difficult as a breakup may be for the two partners, it can also pose a significant challenge for any children involved. Children often have a variety of reactions to a breakup or divorce, and there are a number of things that parents can do to help smooth the way.

  • Keep your children informed . Don’t wait until someone moves out; tell them in advance what to expect. Explain what will happen and how it will affect them (e.g., where they will live, how their daily routine will change, and how often they will see their parents).
  • Maintain routines as much as possible. While a certain amount of disruption is unavoidable, familiar routines can help decrease your children’s anxiety about change. Continue to provide plenty of time with both parents (and other extended family members), if possible. However, resist the temptation to relax rules or discipline because you feel sorry for your children; the consistency of limits can be reassuring, too.
  • Monitor your children’s reactions. They may exhibit anger, depression, academic difficulty, or problems with sleep or appetite. Keep the communication channels open, and encourage them to express themselves. Inform your child’s other adult contacts (e.g., teachers, babysitters) about what’s going on in the home. Consider having your children talk with a counselor if their reactions are persistent or severe.
  • Keep your children out of the middle. Don’t complain about your ex to your children; if you need someone to confide in, find another adult (e.g, friend, clergy, counselor). If you have trouble managing your anger or other feelings, seek professional help. And don’t ask your children to relay messages between you and your ex.
  • Maintain a cordial relationship with your former partner. If possible, resolve disagreements without going to court. Better cooperation will help you let go and get on with your life more easily, as well as promoting a peaceful atmosphere for your children.
  • Explain to your children that the breakup was not their fault. If they are old enough to understand, explain the reasons for the breakup, without going into intimate details.
  • Tread lightly with new relationships. Wait until you’re sure that a relationship is serious before having your children spend a lot of time around your new partner. Be patient–it may take a while for your children to adapt.