Separating can be a stressful and emotional time. When children are involved and there has been conflict in the relationship prior to and during the separation or divorce, children can end up witnessing it and sometimes used as a means of controlling or punishing each other.
If separating couples are able to control their feelings in front of the children and work together in the best interests of the children, then children can manage the upheaval in their lives with less distress and disruption. When parents can be amicable and pleased for children to have a happy and relaxed time with each parent then children can adapt and get on with their lives. If, on the other hand, they are drawn into conflict over a protracted period, they can suffer negative effects which can last into adulthood.
Situations which negatively affect children
Unless one parent is a danger to a child, or incapable of being responsible for them, then both have parental responsibility for any children. Trying to stop a parent from having regular contact can have an adverse effect on the child as children need to have a relationship with both parents. If there was intense conflict during the separation process, one party can feel the other was to blame. Examples might be if there was an affair or domestic violence or a general breakdown in communication where parents were very angry with each other.
The effect of this can be very negative, emotionally and mentally for children. If they hear repeated criticism of a parent by the other, or are made to feel guilty when they spend time with them, then they can suffer from divided loyalties and fear of talking about their time with the other parent in case it provokes and makes them subject to more anger or tears.
Making children choose which parent to live with, unless they are older and there are no emotional pressures on them, can create feelings of guilt and stress in a child. Not being allowed to maintain telephone contact is also damaging – children are also going through a loss process when their family splits up.
What do children want?
Easy and happy access to both parents, Living arrangements to be as secure and convenient for them as is possible, To be able to carry on with school and social activities, To be listened to when arrangements are being made but not to have to make difficult choices, To be able to talk about things they are doing with one parent to the other, To be allowed to love each parent, To be able to have free contact by telephone and/or email with the parent they are not with at the time.
How can counselling help?
Counselling can help parents talk to each other and discuss their difficulties and feelings about their children in a calm environment. It can help them learn to communicate in a respectful and non-aggressive manner and generally build a more polite and business-like relationship, putting their children’s needs first.