Separation: how do parents explain this to the child? Baby and family

Separation: How do parents explain this to the child?

Sometimes the separation is inevitable – even with parents. But how do you tell your child? A psychologist gives tips. And: parents report on their children’s reactions

Parents should not argue in front of the child or speak badly about the other

Prof. Walper, when is the right time to tell the child that mother and father are separating?

When the parents are sure and the decision is made. However, many find it difficult, they delay it. Surveys have shown that parents often give their child other reasons for someone to move out – such as professional commitments. If the child later learns that he has been lied to, he is usually very disappointed and may no longer be able to trust his parents.

In addition, parents often overestimate their ability to cover up something. If the mother or father hide the truth, because he or she does not want to acknowledge the separation himself, this signals to the child that the parents cannot cope with the situation. It usually worries about the parent.

How do parents best tell their child?

Parents should consider: What do I want to give the child as a good reason for separation? You just say, "We don’t love each other anymore", it can be that the child gets a negative impression of love: when it is gone, everything goes down the drain. It is better to say, for example, "We tried for a long time, we loved each other once, but there were more and more problems and arguments. We think we can be better parents for you if everyone takes on his role separately." It is a bit easier to put it in younger children.

Should they tell the child together?

If the parents manage to tell the child together, this is the best option. Before that, however, you should have clarified that you will not reproach yourself under any circumstances. If the conversation does not work out, it is best to tell him first one of the two parents and later the other speaks to the child separately. It is important not to speak badly about the other person – that would be very stressful for the child.

Parents should coordinate what they say beforehand?

Before talking to the child, parents should definitely clarify the most important practical things that affect the child. You should be able to tell him where he will live, when he will see the other parent, who will take him to kindergarten, and so on. Because these things interest children the most.

Unfortunately, it often happens that parents are so busy with themselves that the message is: "Dad has moved out, I have no idea how to proceed and whether the money is enough." This is not an appropriate response from the role of parent, the child gets the feeling that it has to save the parents. You yourself cannot assist him and protect him from the uncertainty that you should.

To what extent should parents explain the reasons for separation to the child?

Many feel that they have to tell their children everything exactly – for example about the ex-partner’s misconduct. But children usually don’t want to hear that. A study showed that children suffer a lot when they talk negatively about the other parent.

Parents also have no obligation to disclose anything that relates to their relationship with one another. For example, you shouldn’t mention an affair. It’s better to just say it, "We can no longer cope". But when children ask directly, for example "Dad has a girlfriend?", parents should of course tell the truth.

Children react very differently to the news that their parents are separating. We asked affected parents about their experiences.

How did your children react to the separation??

"I hate him." – That was the reaction of five-year-old Tom * when he found out that his American father would never return from visiting home. "The news was a shock to all of us because there weren’t any major problems in our relationship", says mother Claudia Müller *. "My husband at the time justified this with the fact that he did not feel comfortable here and did not get along professionally." We still cannot understand that today. My son is often angry. He does not understand why his father is not here, although other foreign fathers in the circle of acquaintances also live and work here. Sometimes he yells at his father on the phone – but he only reacts evasively. In addition, Tom suffers from fear of loss. It is difficult for me to help him with that."

* Name changed by the editors

"Maya * cried terribly", Claudia Müller describes her daughter’s reaction to the news that her American father will no longer come back to his family. The then six-year-old is still sometimes very sad and crying today – almost seven years later. "But then she can talk about it, so she copes better than her brother." Tom and Maya now have only sporadic contact with their father. "Because he doesn’t stick to agreements", explains mother Claudia. "My daughter tried to make an appointment to talk to him on the phone, but it didn’t work out in the long run. It is often unreliable – the children are then disappointed. When you see him, you are very happy."

* Name changed by the editors

"Daniel * didn’t say anything", tells Isabella Reiser * from Munich. Her stepson showed no reaction when she had to explain to him after five years in the house that his father and she would split up. When she moved in with the two, the boy was three years old. "His mother was unable to take care of him due to illness and even waived her right of access. Daniel started me very soon "mummy" to call. For a long time I only stayed with his father because I didn’t give him his second one "mother" wanted to take. But at some point it was no longer possible. I tried to keep in touch with Daniel for a while after the breakup, but his father then forbade him. It was terrible for me. But I refrained from meeting him secretly so as not to plunge him into further conflicts."

* Name changed by the editors

"I don’t understand it and I don’t want to understand it either!" – That was the reaction of twelve-year-old Nina * when her mother told her that her father would move out of the house together. He had moved to his own room a few months earlier. "Nina was very serious and silent for a while, otherwise she is actually a lively guy", says her mother Iris Kühne * looking back. "She didn’t want to hear explanations, it was only important to her that she could stay in the house and that her father would come if he wanted to see her. After talking to a mediator, we decided to do so, although it was not easy for me. But it helped Nina that nothing changed in her everyday life. In time she accepted the situation."

* Name changed by the editors

"It annoyed me anyway that you were always in a bad mood." – This is how Nina’s sister, fourteen-year-old Julia * reacted when she found out that her parents had split up. "She seemed to understand it and made no further comment", says mother Iris Kühne. "Over time she looked really relieved, was freer and more open." It was important to Julia to be able to see her father when she wanted. Like her sister Nina, she didn’t want one "two at home" to have. "She knew this from a friend whose parents were separated and found it terrible", says Iris Kühne. Both never tried to bring the parents back together. "The fact that I felt much better even after the separation was certainly a helpful experience for both girls", says Iris Kühne.

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