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Changing families

How children are affected when parents separate and how to support them

If parents separate, their children are likely to be affected. It’s important for everyone – parents, grandparents, and any new partners involved – to keep the needs of the children uppermost in their minds.

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The importance of maintaining contact

If parents separate, one parent may move away or start a new relationship/family. In some circumstances, a parent may block a child’s contact with the other parent, grandparents or other family members. Sometimes a parent will choose to break off contact with their children. In these circumstances children are likely to have trouble maintaining contact with both parents.

There is strong evidence that in almost every situation, it’s in the child’s best interests to maintain contact with both of their parents – and their grandparents too. Having a healthy relationship with both parents contributes to children’s emotional wellbeing.

The effects of changes to living arrangements

After a separation some children may have to relocate to a new area. They may have to leave their school and friends behind.

If a parent’s new partner moves in, children may resent the absence of the parent who no longer lives at home; they may feel that their position or role in the family is threatened by the arrival of a new adult or child; or they may have problems with how the new adult approaches family life and parenting.

Emotional needs of children

Separation can cause children to suffer emotions like sadness, guilt and frustration. Therefore, it’s important to give your child plenty of support by talking to them, and listening to what they have to say.

Although it’s something that no one likes to think about, there is also a chance that your child will be put at risk as a result of a new relationship. It’s important to take things slowly and be absolutely sure of the right way to move on. After all, your child’s emotional and physical wellbeing should be your first concern.

Supporting children through change

If your family is moving on, you can help to protect your child and support them.

  • Keep talking to your ex, it will help your children to maintain contact. Don’t put your ex down, and if you can, show that you are still parenting together.
  • Talk to your children about what is happening, and listen to what they have to say.
  • Try to maintain the normal routine during difficult times.
  • Give your children time to adjust and take things slowly. Let your new partner know your rules. They should take your lead, especially in matters of discipline. If your child is living with your ex’s new partner, it’s normal to feel concerned, but give the new partner time and space to adjust.

An ongoing relationship with both parents is best for a child.

Where to find more advice

NSPCC: Advice and support for adults concerned about a child.

Family Lives: Help and support in all aspects of family life.

National Childminding Association: Support for childminders and nannies.

Parenting NI: Support for parents in Northern Ireland.

ParentLine Scotland: Support for parents in Scotland.

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