A young Black woman talking about something serious with an older Black woman in the park.


Alongside everything you’re feeling about separating, it’s natural to worry about the impact it might have on your children. But remember that lots of children grow up in families with separated parents. Families come in all shapes and sizes. What’s important is how loving and happy the relationships inside them are.

Children and young people usually have some difficult feelings about their parents separating. This is healthy and normal. The extent to which it negatively affects them over the longer-term is often about the way it’s handled. When parents can focus together on their children’s needs, it makes a big difference, and young people can adjust to their new family set-up in time.

On this page, you can find advice to help you support your children during and after your separation.

You are not a failure. There is still a lot of stigma and a sense of shame and blame around divorce and separation. It’s important to not blame yourself. Sometimes things go wrong beyond your control and despite your best efforts.
Abiola, parent

How can divorce affect children and young people?

It’s normal for children to feel shocked, upset, angry or worried when they find out their parents are separating. They may experience these feelings straightaway, or after some time has passed. Try to respond to their reactions with understanding and patience. Give them time to feel everything they need to.

It might feel difficult if your children are angry with you at the moment. Try to remember that this is a normal reaction. We often feel angry when something difficult happens to us that we cannot control. It’s important for your children to know that it’s okay to be angry and to express their anger in healthy ways. This can help their feelings to lessen in time. You can find more advice about responding to anger in our guide. You can also have a look at our advice about dealing with challenging behaviour.

An iceberg in the middle of the sea with blue sky and clouds around the iceberg. The iceberg has words that show different emotions that comes with anger.

An iceberg with only the top showing above water. Words on the iceberg above water read: angry, aggressive. Words on the iceberg below the water read: worried, hurt, scared, lonely, stressed, overwhelmed, ashamed, ignored, sad.

Text reads: When we seem angry or aggressive, there are often other feelings hidden under the surface.

How to tell your children about divorce

Choose a moment when there's enough time to hear their reaction and answer their questions. Remember that it might be a huge shock, even if you’ve known it’s coming for a while. They will need time to absorb the information and understand what it means for them.

If it’s possible, it can help for both parents to talk to their children about what’s happening together.

You can find more advice on finding the right words on the Relate website.

Go to the Relate website

Three tips for approaching the conversation

  • Let them express their feelings

    They might get upset or angry. Or they might not want to say much to begin with. Make sure you get support before and after conversations. This will make it easier to contain your own feelings and be there for them. Encourage them to talk to the people they trust.

  • Show you’re listening

    It’s okay to show that you’re sad too. But try not to say too much about how you see the situation. Focus on listening and seeing it through their eyes. You can find tips for making your children feel listened to in our blog.

  • Let them ask questions

    Give as much practical information as you can. They might want to know where you or their other parent is going to live, or when they will see you both. Give honest but general answers if your children ask ‘why’ this is happening. Make sure the information is age appropriate and avoid saying anything critical about their other parent. If they're not sure what to ask, you could make a ‘question box’. This allows them to post a question into the box whenever one comes to mind. You can then set aside time for answering them.

Supporting your children through divorce or separation

Whatever age they are, this will have an effect on them. It’s important to find the time and headspace to think about their perspective.

What this could look like in real life: Take a moment in your week to create some space for reflection. This might look like:

  • writing things down
  • doing something mindful like meditation or yoga
  • going for a walk

When we’re full up with thoughts and feelings, it’s much harder to think clearly. Making this time for yourself can help you to see your children’s perspective.

You might be feeling relieved or very angry with their other parent. This is completely understandable. But it can be easy to assume that our children feel the same way we do. This can leave them feeling misunderstood or like they need to hide their feelings. Remember that they might see things in a different way.

What this could look like in real life: Avoid phrases like ‘this is the best thing for everyone’. When you want to reassure them, say something like: ‘this is really hard and it’s not what you want, but we're both here for you’.

Children often feel conflicting emotions about this situation, which can be confusing. They might feel protective of one parent and angry with the other. Or they might think it’s their fault in some way, while also blaming their parents. It will take time, understanding and patience to work this out. Don’t rush them into making sense of it or ‘fixing’ their big feelings. Give them time to feel everything they need to.

What this could look like in real life: ‘It’s okay that you feel angry with me. You didn’t choose for this to happen, and it’s really hard. I’m really sorry this has hurt you so much, but I love you and I’m always going to be here for you’.

Children and young people often make sense of things by thinking it’s their fault. They might worry that the separation would not have happened if they were a different child. Or that they could have stopped it from happening if they’d done something differently. Tell them explicitly that it’s not their fault. Be clear that children are never responsible for what happens in adult relationships.

What this could look like in real life: If both parents are involved, you could say: ‘We’ve broken up because of us, because of things that happened in our relationship. It’s got absolutely nothing to do with you. We love being your parents, and we want to focus on being good parents together’.

If you’re a single parent at the moment, you could say, ‘Your Dad/Mum leaving is nothing to do with you. It’s about things going on inside Dad/Mum, not about you. You’re such a wonderful child and I’m so lucky to have you. I love you so much’.

Going through so much change can feel unsettling. It helps to make sure that activities from life before the separation continue as normal. This shows your children they’re still in the same family.

What this could look like in real life:

  • keep doing family mealtimes and favourite family activities
  • hold the same boundaries around behaviour
  • support them to continue hobbies, seeing friends and doing schoolwork

It can be difficult to find moments for this when you’re in the middle of so much change. But it can help your children to feel loved, noticed and cared for. It can also help them to relax, giving them a break from what’s going on.

What this could look like in real life: Set aside some time when you can focus on doing a fun activity together, even if it’s only for half an hour. It might be watching a film, playing a video game, drawing, baking, playing sport or reading a book.

In general, children and young people need a relationship with both of their parents. Their mental health can be negatively affected if they are not supported to see both parents.

If your child seems to be distancing themselves from their other parent, check in with them. Find out if anything is causing them to feel this way. Then think together about solutions that would make them feel more comfortable.

What this could look like in real life: ‘I’ve noticed that you’ve decided not to go to your Mum’s/Dad’s a couple of times this month. I wondered if anything’s bothering you … could we have a chat about it?'

If you have concerns about your children's safety when they're with their other parent, this needs to be handled differently. You can find advice about this at the end of this page.

Even though you and your ex-partner have chosen to separate, you are still co-parents. Together, you still make up your children’s family. It will take time to figure this out. But it’s important to keep working at it, even if it sometimes feels like you won’t get there. Focus on prioritising your children’s needs and making shared decisions that benefit them.

What this could look like in real life:

  • Have a look at Resolution’s practical advice on developing a good co-parenting relationship
  • Keep some contact going with relatives on both sides of the family. Young people can feel less ‘in the middle’ if they know that their parents still care about all their grandparents, or all of their aunts and uncles.
  • Make talking about people on both sides of the family a normal part of everyday life.
  • Provide connections between their two homes. Encourage them to move favourite toys between their two houses. Support them to speak to their other parent while they’re at your house.
  • It can be healing for your children to see both of their parents coming together sometimes. This might be for celebrations, graduations, weddings or important family meals.

This is a massive change and it’s going to take time for everyone to adjust. Don’t rush yourself or your children. Be kind to yourself and remember everything you’re doing to take care of them. If the separation happened recently, it might feel like there’s no light at the end of tunnel. But with time and support, things can get better.

Be hopeful for the future. The future may look different and not what you envisioned. But it can be helpful and healing to remember that happiness is not always through a marriage or relationship, and it’s healthy to view it like that. A positive marriage or relationship should simply enrich the best of you, it shouldn’t define you. So if something does go wrong with that relationship, you are not left feeling less than.
Abiola, parent

Things to avoid

Whatever's happened in the past, your children need to know that it’s okay to love and be close to both of their parents. When there’s lots of conflict, parents can sometimes do things that are upsetting for their children. This includes:

- blaming or criticising the other parent in front of their children
- arguing with the other parent in front of their children
- behaving in ways that create tension when the other parent is around
- not wanting to talk about the other parent, or people on the other side of the child’s family

If some of these things are happening, the Anna Freud Centre has practical advice for parents in conflict.

Getting support with money

Separating sometimes affects family finances. This might change the amount you can spend on things like clothes and presents. This can be tough. But remember that lots of young people experience this. Be kind to yourself and remind yourself that you’re doing the best you can.

You can find practical advice about money, benefits, debt and other issues on the Citizen's Advice website. You can also look at our guide for tips on talking to your child about money.

Looking after yourself

No one can go through separation alone. We all need kindness and support to help us cope. It's important to find help for yourself so you can process some of your own feelings. This will benefit your children hugely. It will make you more able to be there for them. It will also make developing a co-parenting relationship with your ex-partner easier.

Parents who have gone through this know that it often feels like a messy, painful and confusing time. Go easy on yourself and remember that you’re going through a massive change. It might not always feel like progress is being made in the right direction. But at each stage, just focus on your next step.

Here are some tips for taking care of yourself:

Remember that it’s okay to share how you’re feeling with the people you trust. Sometimes knowing that someone is there to listen can make a huge difference.

Ask for support when you need it and say ‘yes’ to offers of help. This might include getting help with childcare so you can take some time off.

Sometimes, it’s easier to open up to someone you don’t know. If you need to talk, you can speak to Samaritans or Family Line. They’ll listen to what you’re going through and provide emotional support. You may also be able to find a local support group for people going through separation by searching online.

A counsellor or therapist can help you to make sense of what’s happened. They can provide emotional support, be there to listen and help you find ways of coping.

To find free or low-cost counselling in your area:

  • ask your GP what services are available
  • search for local counselling services on the Hub of Hope website
  • find free and culturally relevant therapy for Black adults at Black Minds Matter
  • refer yourself for free therapy with the NHS if you’re struggling with a mental health issue such as anxiety or depression

If it’s an affordable option for you, you can see a private counsellor or therapist in your local area. You can use these websites to find qualified therapists who are registered with a professional body:

This could be going for a walk or run, writing down how you’re feeling, doing something mindful like meditation or yoga, or doing something creative.

Be kind to yourself. Even a single act of kindness to yourself everyday goes a long way. It’s also good modelling for your children.
Abiola, parent

Finding mental health support for your child or young person

Three young people sitting together in a park.

It’s normal for children and young people to go through a hard time when their parents separate. Some young people might want to talk to friends or a trusted adult. Others might like to open-up to someone they do not know, such as a counsellor. You can find information about accessing counselling in our guide.

In some situations, a child or young person may be affected over a longer period. If your child is struggling with their mental health, it does not mean you’ve done something wrong. But they might need professional advice and support. Speaking to your GP and looking into counselling or therapy are good places to start. You can get more information about finding support in our guide to mental health services.

Getting support from mental health services

If you have been in an abusive relationship

If you or your children have experienced abuse, you may have concerns about your children’s safety after separating. This might be because their other parent has been abusive towards them in the past. Or, if you have experienced domestic violence, your children may be at risk of being abused by the same adult. Remember that abuse can be emotional as well as physical. It’s valid to have concerns about your children’s emotional safety.

If you’re concerned, get some practical and legal advice about what to do next. It may be that certain rules or boundaries need to in place. In some cases, it might not be appropriate for your children to see their other parent right now.

To get advice, you can speak to:

You can also reach out to the support services listed in our guide.

Abuse: a guide for parents and carers

Useful helplines and websites

While we take care to ensure that the organisations we signpost to provide high quality information and advice, we cannot take responsibility for any specific pieces of advice they may offer. We encourage parents and carers to always explore the website of a linked service or organisation to understand who they are and what support they offer before engaging with them.

  • YoungMinds Parents Helpline

    We support parents and carers who are concerned about their child or young person's mental health. Our Parents Helpline provides detailed advice and information, emotional support and signposting.

    You can speak to us over the phone or chat to us online.

    You can speak to us over webchat between 9.30am and 4pm from Monday-Friday. When we’re closed, you can still leave us a message in the chat. We’ll reply to you by email in 3-5 working days.

    Opening times:
    9.30am-4pm, Monday-Friday
  • Family Line

    Provides information and support around family issues, as well as longer-term help through Befrienders and Counsellors.

    Opening times:
    9am - 9pm, Monday - Friday
  • Family Lives

    Emotional support, information, advice and guidance on any aspect of parenting and family life.

    Opening times:
    9am - 9pm, Monday to Friday; 10am - 3pm at weekends
  • Children 1st Parentline

    Support for families living in Scotland. You can call their helpline for parenting support and advice on any issue, including challenging behaviour, divorce and separation, stress, or money worries. You can also find lots of information on their website.

    You can also speak to someone over web chat.

    Opening times:
    Monday - Friday, 9am - 9pm; Saturday - Sunday, 9am - 12 noon
  • Gingerbread

    Support for single parents in England and Wales including advice and information on child support, benefits, tax credits and your child’s contact with their other parent. 

    Opening times:
    Mon 10am-6pm, Tues, Thurs & Fri 10am-4pm, Wed: 10am-1pm and 5pm-7pm
  • One Parent Families Scotland

    Provides support, information and advice for single parents in Scotland.

    Online chat service available.

    Opening times:
    9.30am - 4pm, Monday - Friday
  • Resolution

    Resolution (formerly known as the Solicitors Family Law Association SFLA) offer a constructive, non-confrontational approach.

    Opening times:
    Mon-Fri 9am-5.30pm
  • Family Mediation Council

    If you're going through a divorce or separation, or another family issue, a family mediator can help you find a solution that works for your whole family as much as possible, without going to court.  

    You can use their directory to find family mediators near you.

  • Relationships Scotland

    Scotland's largest provider of relationship counselling, family mediation and child contact centre services

    Opening times:
    Mon-Fri 9.30am-4pm
Patient Information Forum Trusted Information Creator (PIF TICK) logo

This page was reviewed in February 2024.

It was created with a parent or carer with lived experience of supporting their child or young person through their separation.

We will next review the page in 2027.

YoungMinds is a proud member of PIF TICK – the UK's quality mark for trusted health information.

Whether you love the page or think something is missing, we appreciate your feedback. It all helps us to support more young people with their mental health.

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