Effects of Separation on Children
Separation is a painful experience for the whole family and it can be felt in many ways:
Loneliness, depression, despair, anger, jealousy, guilt, confusion, stress or a mixture of all these emotions.
Children can be affected in so many ways during separation.
Two of the important factors are their age and the degree of conflict among their parents.
Children whose parents are open to communication and work together as parents (it may be very hard for both parents)
even if they have their own lives are more likely to cope better than those children whose parents are not in speaking terms.
Children from Separated Family
They can still be fruitful and integrated individuals given that their parents and all those around them work together in promoting healthy relationships despite the changes that are happening in the family.
Parents with too much animosity to each other can affect the children negatively. This is a very stressful stage in the lives of children.
Grieving may took a long time for some children especially when they have no idea that there are problems between their parents.
Children also feel insecure with regards to where they will be staying or who will be leaving the house.
They can also be very angry with the whole situation and feel that parents don’t love them especially to the parent who will leave the house and is absent most of the time.
Parents have their own share of pain and anger but they should always consider the welfare of these innocent lives
who will be directly affected because of the separation which is not their fault.
Assurance and stability from parents will help children cope from the pain of separation.
A commitment from both parents to communicate, cooperate and a practical arrangement that will meet the needs of the children is very important in the growth of children.
What are the effects on children?
0 – 2 years
Children at this age are very dependent on parents, they have a strong physical and emotional need from their parents.
Separation or absence of one parent can cause high level of emotional distress to the child.
Children may not be able to verbalize their feeling but they can definitely feel the conflict between parents.
Negative Effects: Attention seeking, Regression, Detachment, Disturbance to Normal Feeding, Toilet and Sleeping problems.
What can parents do? Have a routine, it can be short but consistent.
They can have photos around or videos as reminders for the child.
2 – 5 years
Children at this stage are starting to become independent.
They start to recognize colors, walk, talk and these children are rich in fantasy.
They cannot always distinguish reality from imagination. Children may take to themselves criticisms from either parent.
Negative Effects: Denial, Depression, Sleep and Toilet Disturbance, Fears and Nightmares, Regression, Deterioration of Language Skills, Increased Demand for Affection and Attention, Attempt to Reconcile Parents
What can parents do?
Hugging children often, having longer conversations, eating meals together as much as possible,
set a calendar showing their schedule of visits, not giving children false hopes, and being honest as much as possible
6 – 9 years
Children are beginning to develop their own personal identity and are able to talk about their feelings.
They still have a strong desire for the reconciliation of their parents and tend to do things to make this happen.
They want to always be near the parent with whom they spent the most time with and at the same time find it hard to leave the other parent after the visit.
Behavioral problems (especially at school), intense feelings of sadness, loss, guilt, and difficulty in concentrating with physical symptoms (headache or stomachaches)
What can parents do?
Support and Understanding from parents, having a cooperative parenting plan, having more time together, sharing responsibilities in providing the children’s needs,
always being honest to your children, assuring them that you (both parents) will always be there for them
even if you are separated, assuring them of your unconditional love, and discouraging them to make arrangements about possible reconciliation.
10 -12 years
Children are growing in independence by now and are finding interest in friendships outside the family.
They can speak about what they feel now and might be torn between the two parents, they may also try to reject one parent as a way to cope with the conflict.
Saying negative things about each parent to make them happy, feeling responsible for the distressed parent, expressing blame or anger, or too much sadness and loss.
What can parents do?
Know your children’s interests, show support to their interests, plan activities that interests them,
balance routine and flexibility, assure them of your love, never bad mouth your partner, have some fun time together (as a family).
13 – 16 years
Children are in their adolescent stage now and they are more independent even if parents are together.
Parents should respect their space and opinion to their separation.
Pressure can trigger the adolescent to react with anger and rejection. Privacy is also important to them at this stage.
Anger, identification to one parent or refusal to take sides, may leave home early, manipulative attitude, rebellion, withdrawal or acting out, deep sadness, and loss.
What can parents do?
Be flexible in dealing with your children and in making arrangements, allow them to have a normal life, listen to them,
give them freedom with guidance, support them, assure them of your love, and respect your children.
There are no perfect parents, only imperfect ones who are striving to be good or best parents.
No one gets married and dreams of being separated, but things happen and all we can do is adjust to it and make the most of what we have to save the lives of our children.
As parents, we need to know and understand that our children have the right and need to:
- Love and be Loved by their parents.
- Be Proud of their family and be able to respect them
- See their parents as mature individuals with mutual respect for each other
- Be heard by both parents
- Have quality space and time with both parents.
- Be provided with their basic human rights.