Your Children

And what about your children? How do you protect them? How should you behave? How do you best look after their needs during a family break-up?


You will certainly have lots of worrisome questions about how they are going to react. Each child is different, but your attitude can help make this difficult moment less stressful.

In spite of the decision to separate, the family will always exist. You will have to be in contact with your ex-spouse to discuss issues regarding your children. This won’t always be easy, but maybe at difficult moments you could focus on the qualities you saw in your spouse when you first met. If you focus on positive qualities, you’ll be better able to discuss things together and come up with solutions. If all you do is point out your ex-spouse’s weaknesses, he or she will go on the defensive and even go on the attack. Don’t forget that children don’t ask to be born, but they definitely need both their parents. Allow them to take the best from each of their parents – it’s your duty.

Don’t believe that your children don’t know what is going on – never underestimate their ability to watch and understand. Even when very young, children can see and feel the tension between their parents. Instead of thinking that you can shelter them from parental conflict, it’s better to dialogue with them and listen to their fears and worries rather than deny the problem. Being frank and honest is best in this type of situation.

What are your children’s needs in a time of crisis? Suzanne Roy, a social worker, has identified the needs of children living through family break-up.

After parents separate, children sometimes fear being abandoned, often feel responsible for the separation, and keep on hoping for a reconciliation. As a parent, you can limit the effects of separation by taking your children’s needs into account. Children must feel that they always have a family, even if it’s going to be in a different form. What is most harmful to children is not the actual separation itself, but finding themselves at the centre of parental disagreements and conflicts. Children need:

  • to be informed and protected
  • to be prepared for major changes to come,
  • to maintain a relationship with both parents
  • to be reassured of the love of both parents
  • to have the right to love both parents as before
  • to feel a real bond with both parents
  • to feel both father and mother continue to take care of them as before
  • to have emotional stability
  • to be able to express their feelings about the separation
  • to understand their parents’ decision to separate
  • not to feel responsible for the separation
  • to accept that the separation will be permanent
  • to experience, as far as possible, that the break-up is harmonious
  • to be kept out of arguments between their parents
  • to not be a go-between for the parents
  • to feel that both parents are able to speak each other
  • to not be forced to take sides with one parent against the other (loyalty conflict)
  • to remain a child (not to have responsibility for the adults)
  • to not to worry about financial security for the family.


  1. Discouraging them from loving the other parent or from being in touch with the other parent
  2. Saying that they will be loved less if they express affection for your ex-spouse’s new partner or anyone else who’s nice to them
  3. Threatening to send them away or leave them if they don’t behave
  4. Using them to convey hostile messages
  5. Insinuating that the other parent is bad by talking negatively
  6. Saying to them, “You’re just like your father/mother!”
  7. Feeling you love them less when they express affection for your ex
  8. Making major changes in their lives without preparing them, like moving or remarrying
  9. Bothering them with financial problems, legal problems, suicidal thoughts, sexual or personal problems
  10. Expecting your kids to comfort you instead of being comforted by other adults or professionals
  11. Having verbal or physical fights with your ex on the phone or in person