Talking to your children

When parents split up, children often:

  • feel confused and insecure because they don’t understand what’s happening
  • blame themselves
  • cover up their emotions.

You might think your children are OK because they aren't talking about being sad. It's important to remember that this is a time of major change for them as well as for you. Young children often don’t have the skills to understand when they need help, and each child will have different needs.

On this page:

Tips for talking to your children

Talking with your children is important – keep communication as open as you can

  • Find times for your children to be alone with you without distractions (such as car trips).
  • Ask them if they have questions about what’s happening.
  • Ask them how they feel. Listen to your children. Show them you're listening by not interrupting them while they're talking.

How can I make sure our children have a say?

  • Work as a team with your children to make the best possible arrangements for their future.
  • Always ask for their views.
  • Children older than 11 are often more likely to have views about the future.
  • Don’t pressure your children to make choices.

Take your children’s views into account

  • If your children do tell you what they want, try to fit their wishes into your plans.
  • If you can’t do this, explain why.

Reassure your children

  • Tell your children many times:
    • it isn’t their fault that you’re splitting up
    • you still love them even though you’ve split up
    • splitting up happens often.
  • Be affectionate – give your children lots of hugs.
  • Just listen – don’t feel you have to fix their feelings. It’s a painful process and you can’t change that.
  • By listening, you can help them feel understood.

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Having a new partner

If you have a new partner, it may make the break up harder for your children to cope with, so be patient. Children often feel they can't accept your new partner because it would be disloyal to their other parent.

Here are some practical things that can help:

  • Make time for your children to be with you without your new partner.
  • Be sensitive to your children’s emotions and needs when introducing a new partner.
  • Listen to what your children say about your new partner without feeling you have to change their minds or agree with them.
  • Understand and respect your child’s point of view.
  • Insist that your children are polite to your new partner, but don’t expect them to see him or her as their parent.
  • Don’t ask your children to call your new partner ‘mum’ or ‘dad’.

If your new partner has children too

Adjusting to a step-family as well as your break up can be very difficult for children, so again be patient.  Ask your children to tell you how they feel about the situation, listen to what they say and try to help.

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Resources and support for children

If you want or need extra support to help your child through this time, there are resources and services available.