Information for families in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole

Support for separating or separated parents

When parents separate, children can often feel like they are being put into different roles and children can sometimes be put into difficult positions.

Child roles between separated parents

A) Spy

Asking your child about their other parent can make them feel like a spy. They might fear they're betraying them or just say what they think you want to hear.

Try instead: stick to general questions. If you find yourself asking more specific ones, like about their new partner, ask yourself why you really want to know and how it might make your child feel.

B) Messenger

Asking children to pass messages back and forth puts them in an uncomfortable position. They may worry that whatever they do, it'll upset one of their parents.

Try instead: if it's not easy to talk to each other, could you ask someone neutral to join a chat group between you both?
They might help keep things calm and respectful.

C) Counsellor

If you're seeking emotional support from your child, it can put them under pressure to make you feel better. It's not their job to give you support.

Try instead: if your child sees you're upset you can tell them how you're feeling. But let them know that you'll be okay and they do not need to worry.

D) Mediator

It can be extremely upsetting for children to see their parents arguing with each other. They may feel the need to try and solve the problem which is too much responsibility for children.

Try instead: let them know these are problems for adults to solve. Reassure them that you both still love them, even though you're not together anymore.

Unhelpful behaviours between separated parents

A) Provoking your child's other parent

If you add to the other parent's stress or anxiety, it can have a direct impact on your child. A parent feeling overwhelmed will struggle to meet their child's needs.

Try instead to put your decisions through 'The Child Test'. Ask yourself; 'How might this affect my child?'

B) Competing to be the favourite parent

Most children just want their parents' time and attention. Competing with your child's other parent can pull focus away from doing what's best for your child.

Try instead to focus on what your child needs from you. Ask yourself; 'Am I doing this for my child's best interest? Or for another reason?'

C) Badmouthing your child's other parent

When one parent badmouths the other, your child can feel forced to choose sides. As a result they may avoid telling you about problems to do with their other parent.

Try instead to focus on finding solutions to the problem. If you really need to vent, call someone you trust. Just make sure your child does not overhear.

D) Not letting your child talk about the other parent

It can be painful to hear your child talk about their other parent. But if children think what they're saying is upsetting you, they will start to censor themselves around you.

Try instead to remember that your child still loves their other parent. Try to show interest and say something positive. And smile, even if you're not feeling it!

Additional support

Children and family court advisory and support service - parenting together.

Find out advice on how to parent when apart.

Divorce and separation support from advice now.

Advice for parents on how to talk to and support your teenager during divorce or separation.

Citizens advice offer information on how to separate.