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Break Ups And Separation: What To Say To Your Child

Breaking up as parents is never easy, but talk to your toddler about it in the best way to help him deal with it

There’s no checklist when it comes to a break up, especially when there are kids involved.

It’s a process (often a long, heart-breaking one) for you all, and needs approaching as parents rather than just as an ex couple.

And even though your child may seem too young to understand the details, bringing the topic down to his level can help reassure him.

Do talk about it

Sit down with your toddler, but make sure you and your ex are on the same page.

‘Agree what you want to say beforehand so there’s no confusion,’ says Susanna Abse, Chief Executive of The Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships. ‘And have the talk somewhere low-key and familiar where your child feels comfortable.’

Keep it simple

Skip over-long explanations and focus on reassuring.

‘So, think about “Mummy and daddy are going to live somewhere different for a while because we’ve had some arguments, but we both love you very much”,’ says Susanna.

And it’s OK to tell him some things are for grown-ups and he’ll understand them better when he’s bigger.

Take a child’s perspective

A three year old isn’t going to be thinking about your relationship ins and outs. Right now, it’s more about his day-to-day.

A three year old isn’t going to be thinking about your relationship ins and outs. Right now, it’s more about his day-to-day

‘So, where he’ll sleep, whether daddy will have his favourite cereal, if he can take his cuddly rabbit with him,’ says Susanna.

‘Reassure him about the practicalities – so, tomorrow when he goes to daddy’s, he can pack his bag with his books and PJs, then you’ll take him there and pick him up in the morning.’

Understand his reasoning

It’s normal for a young child to create a story to make sense of what’s happening.

‘For example, he may’ve seen you argue once about mummy not putting the bin out, and so he puts things together and thinks that’s why you don’t live together anymore,’ says Susanna.

Or, he could worry it’s because he’s been naughty. ‘Again, keep it simple, reassure him that sometimes grown-ups have arguments but it’s in no way his fault and that you both love him.’

If he sees you upset…

You won’t be all smiles all the time right now – but don’t necessarily hide it if your child sees you crying.

‘Toddlers understand what it means to be upset, so give a manageable explanation like “Mummy’s sad because she and daddy are cross with each other, but we’ll feel better soon”,’ says Susanna.

Manage arguments

It’s tough, but avoid conflict around your child.

‘Children need to see some resolution to arguments, but that’s very difficult if you’re going through a separation, so be really conscious of keeping your disagreements away from him,’ says Susanna.

If you’re really struggling, get professional support – there are courses and advice services to help couples work through a break up.

What’s your experience of separating with a child? Let us know on the comments board below.

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