How to cope with family breakdown

Family breakdowns are sometimes unavoidable when parents decide to separate, usually leaving children feeling sad, confused and helpless. Here are some ways to address your children’s common concerns and support them.

Q: If my parents argue a lot, does it mean they will break up?

No, it is normal for all families have arguments. However, there are cases where frequent arguments do lead to parents’ separation, and as such, many young people are forced to deal with the confusion and uncertainties caused by family breakdowns. These may include changes such as moving to a new environment or not seeing mum/dad frequently anymore. While the situation may be distressing, it is important to remind your children that it is not their fault that you are fighting with or separating from your partner.

Q: What if I am feeling sad and depressed about the entire situation?

The impact of conflict and separation is different on everyone. While some are able to cope effectively, others may struggle to adjust and experience high levels of anxiety, depression, insecurity and poor sleep quality. These reactions are perfectly normal; when a family breaks down, it is natural to feel a sense of loss.

It may also help to remind your children that while there are things they cannot control in life, they can control how they cope with difficulties they may face.

Q: How do I survive my parents’ separation?

  • Remind them that the separation is not their fault
  • Even though you and your partner may be separating, you are still, and will always, be their parents. Try and stay in contact with the children to reinforce this
  • Tell them that it is normal to experience strong, negative emotions. Encourage them to seek support from their siblings and friends
  • Encourage them to speak to you if you do or say something that upsets them. Avoid criticising your ex-partner in front of your children.

Coping with the aftermath of a family breakdown is often tough, but it is important to bear in mind that you will all get through it. The sadness and depression are merely temporary; moving on with your life may take time but it will happen.  In addition, it is important to express your feelings and find emotional support from close relatives or friends. If you find that you or your children are feeling too overwhelmed, seeking help from a counselor or psychologist may help you to cope better.