• Has your life has taken an unexpected turn because of separation or divorce?
• Are you unsure what to expect from the future?
• Are you feeling drained?
• Are your children irritable or having mood swings?
• Is communication in the family not as good as it used to be?
• Do you want to make ...• Has your life has taken an unexpected turn because of separation or divorce?
• Are you unsure what to expect from the future?
• Are you feeling drained?
• Are your children irritable or having mood swings?
• Is communication in the family not as good as it used to be?
• Do you want to make sure your children will be ok?

The good news is that children are amazingly resilient when they have the right support. Real life is rarely perfect and never predictable. Here is what can make the difference between just surviving and starting a new and rewarding life together.

Helping children to adjust to a new life

When life is going through a huge period of adjustment it can be hard to know what to do. Remember that children are tough and will adjust to changes as long as they have you to take good care of them.

In the early stages you have two major issues to deal with in helping your children.

• The emotional impact
• The practical changes

Managing Grief and Loss

Everyone’s story is different, both because of who we are but also what happens to us. However, there are stages in the process of adjustment which are useful to be aware of.

• Shock and disbelief – maybe your child does not seem to have taken it all in. They seem too calm or they are convinced you will get back together again. Time is needed to adjust and a gentle approach to their avoidance or reality will work best.

• Sorrow and despair – now the situation is more real and the pain is sometimes overwhelming. It can be hard to believe it won’t continue like this. If you feel this way too it may help to talk to people who divorced some time ago.

• Anger – your child may be furious with one or both parents or the world in general. Why did this happen to me! Anger can be hard to handle as it makes us angry too.

• Acceptance – slowly the change becomes an accepted part of life and your child is able to try new things and adjust to the loss of their old life. This can take months rather than weeks.

Understanding children’s beliefs

Children don’t always understand what has happened and won’t be helped by knowing the detail of what went on between their parents. As a result they can harbour some unhelpful beliefs because they genuinely don’t know why life has changed and may blame themselves.

o Is it my fault?
o Will things get better if I am good?
o Do mum and dad still love me?
o Will (mum/dad) still want to see me?
o Will my live in parent leave me too?
o Will we ever have a nice life again?
o What can I do to make mum/dad feel better
o Will other children think my family is not as good as theirs?

The effect of age on children’s understanding

Children of varying ages respond differently to family separation.

Babies and toddlers
• Are highly dependent on the adult who takes care of them.
• Will be aware of the practical changes in their world and may need to adjust to a new routine.
• Are sensitive to conflict and easily unsettled.
• Will pick up on how you are and may be unsettled.

Pre school children
• Usually can talk about their present wants and feelings which can help you make life better for them.
• May find some of the adjustments to routine hard to take.
• May fear separation from you in case you also do not return.
• Will be more aware of the loss of the absent parent than a younger child.

Primary age
Grief and sadness remain prominent but may also express anger at both parents. Sometimes idealises the absent parent particularly if access visits are more exciting than everyday life.
• May need help to adjust to two lifestyles and sets of rules.
• May be unsure where boundaries are as what can be negotiated.
• Older children may cover their hurt and seek distraction in play. May become uncommunicative.

• In addition to the above may be at risk of depression. Can opt out of family life and rely on peers for status and approval. May become pessimistic about life and lose motivation with school.

Taking care of yourself
Your children tune in to how you are, even babies sense how you are feeling. It makes good sense to take the best care of yourself that you can and to get others to help you out as much as possible.

Building a new future

Making a good life for yourself and your children requires optimism and determination. Children are hugely resilient and adaptable. Be patient and prepared for the ups and downs as you make a new life.

Key factors which will help you build a new life are:

• Keep talking about what you all want and how to make it happen.

Managing feelings
• Learn to manage feelings – work out how your can all help when someone is upset or angry

Absent parent
• Whatever the state of your relationship with your ex, your children’s relationship with the absent parent needs support to be as good as it can be. This may not be easy but will reduce problems in the long term.

Planning your future
• Have a vision of the future and make small steps which make all of you feel good. Don't expect changes to come quickly. Small changes made daily will soon add up. Kepping a journal can help you clarify your thoughts and make plans. Equally a coaching programme can give you the support and impetus you need to establish the life that you want not only for yourself but for your children.

Author's Bio: 

Jeni Hooper is a Child and educational psychologist specialising in helping children to find their best selves and to flourish. Her book What Children need to be Happy, Confident and Successful: Step by Step Positive Psychology to Help Children Flourish is published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers and can be viewed here http://www.amazon.co.uk/What-Children-Happy-Confident-Successful/dp/1849...
Jeni can be contacted at info@jenihooper.com or visit my website www.jenihooper.com