I was updating my safeguarding training recently and came across these worrying statistics. Sadly these are unlikely to come as a surprise.
Research from July 2020 reported by the ONS and The Children’s Society showed that 1 in 6 children aged 5-16 had a probable mental disorder.
- In the last three years, the likelihood of young people having a mental health problem has doubled (I suspect the impact of lockdown has worsened that statistic).
- ¾ of young people with mental health difficulties aren’t getting the help they need.
- More than 1/3 children and young people who get referred to the NHS are not accepted into treatment.
As parents, we have a huge responsibility to our children. The mums and dads I work with are keen to minimise the impact of their separation and divorce on their children. The process of separation and divorce itself doesn’t have to cause emotional harm, but if your child is already vulnerable in this regard, it needs careful consideration.
Mental health issues can present in so many different ways including symptoms of anxiety and depression, self-harm, disordered eating, antisocial or changed behaviour, lying or a change in sleep habits. Not all of these indicate illness, but it is better to know how problems can present than have your head in the sand.
Here are three things to consider based on conversations I’ve had with separating parents.
Firstly, if you have decided to separate or divorce it’s probably a good idea to tell the children, and to make a plan to do this. I help a lot of parents with this. We may think we can keep it to ourselves but this can create an ‘atmosphere’ or run the risk of our children overhearing things… conversations, tears, arguments. In many cases, children suspect something is wrong even if nothing is said. The risk is that they normalise the situation and the secrecy, and develop coping strategies which can go on to impact them for years if not decades. Children may tell their school friends or keep things to themselves, and it’s for this reason I tend to think it’s best for parents to tell their children and then deal with the situation appropriately. (I offer a 2 hour divorce support consultation for one or both parents to plan this conversation.)
Secondly, consider telling your children’s school(s). This is especially important at the time you tell your children of the intention to separate (and the more so if they are in Primary School), or when you are moving house or changing a weekly routine. In most cases your child’s class teacher or tutor, or Head of Pastoral Support is a good person to contact in confidence. They do not need to know specific details, and will seek to prioritise your child’s wellbeing. In all cases, regardless of separation and divorce, schools should be safe havens for children and all staff are trained in safeguarding. In some cases they can help you access additional professional support for your child. School is often a bastion of familiarity, a safe haven during times of upheaval and it is helpful for teachers to be aware of changes in a child’s life.
Thirdly, as parents you are well-placed to support your children’s emotional wellbeing. This can be hard: we weren’t (typically) taught about mental health; we may have our own experiences – both good and bad – that influence how we approach the issue. Your GP should be a source of support, and your child’s school can sometimes provide assistance or refer you to other services. Some children need professional support, but there’s lots you can do at home. Examples include teaching your children mindfulness or meditation or providing books about divorce and mental health. Cuddles, familiar routines, time to talk and time to have fun all help children regulate emotions.
Two of my current favourite books are:
A Teenage Guide to Mental Health by Sir John Timpson available at Timpson branches nationwide
The Divorce Journal for Kids by Sue Atkins (very practical, with a helpful section for parents and teachers)
Finally, getting the support you need will have a positive impact on your parenting and your children’s experience of divorce. If you are interested in discussing how divorce coaching can lighten the load for you, please contact me in confidence, and let’s arrange a time to talk. firstname.lastname@example.org