About 240,000 children each year in the UK experience the separation of their parents.
When their parents split up, these children can react in different ways. Some will be hurt and upset, even angry with their parents or themselves. Some might be relieved when their parents finally separate, especially if their parents have been fighting a great deal. Some might show no outward reaction at all, but that doesn’t mean they have no feelings on the inside.
How children react to parents separation can often depend on their age and different developmental stages:
Bonding with their parents and gaining a sense of security is very important at this age. However, regular and consistent arrangements for a baby to spend time with both parents, but can be difficult when the parents are no longer living together. Therefore, parents might need to be more creative in how they share parenting time.
When growing up from being a baby, toddlers begin to see themselves as individuals. They will experience new emotions but are often unable to understand and express how they are feeling. Therefore, a predictable environment can help, with separated parents working together so that a toddler has a consistent balance of love and affection, whilst also learning appropriate boundaries when they are naughty.
3 to 5 years old
Pre-schoolers begin to develop their own sense of identity which is greatly influenced by the adults around them. They will pick up on what their parents say and do, as a guide for how they themselves should behave. Therefore, it is important for separated parents to try and maintain a positive attitude towards each other in front of their children because growing up in a negative environment can negatively affect how pre-schoolers feel about themselves and others.
6 to 9 years old
At this age, children start to develop self-esteem. Their relationship with their parents is often important in how they view themselves. They are also able to better understand and talk about their feelings, although they might be reluctant to do so because they can become worried about making things worse or upsetting a parent. Therefore, a positive home environment remains important as well as the opportunity for a young child to talk about their feelings.
10 to 12 years old
Pre-teens often view the world as ‘black and white’. Whilst they might think they know what is right and what is wrong, they often still lack the emotional maturity to understand why their parents have separated. Instead, they are more likely to take sides with one parent over the other and possibly feel the strong need to take care of a parent. Therefore, separated parents should ensure their pre-teen child is not placed in the middle of adult issues. They might also need help to understand they do not need to take on adult responsibilities.
13 to 18 years
As teenagers move from being children to young adults, they will often seek more independence, as they move away from their family to establish themselves as independent people. Therefore, separated parents may need to be more flexible with child arrangements, as friends and social lives can become the central focus of teenagers lives, rather than spending time with their parents. Also, there is the increased risk that teenagers will become more exposed to adult information than younger children. Because of this, separated parents should still take care to ensure that whilst these young adults have a voice, they are not burdened with adult problems and responsibilities.
Being a parent is seldom easy at the best of times, but is even more challenging when parents are no longer living in the same home.
The specialist family lawyers at Harold G Walker Solicitors appreciate the importance of understanding all of these issues, not just the law relating to families. For further information please contact our Family Law team.