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When Parents Break Up

Separation and divorce can put a lot of stress on everyone in the family. Often it will raise a lot of questions, and create some upsetting changes that young people need help to understand

Young people whose parents are splitting up might feel angry, upset, scared, or even guilty or responsible. Some might also be relieved there’s no more tension or fighting at home. They may have to cope with a lot of changes happening all at once: where they are living, what they do each day, and how often they see their mum or dad.

If you are supporting someone while their family is going through a time of change, be there to listen and let them talk about how they are doing.

Keeping an eye out

It’s normal for a young person to feel stressed when their parents decide to separate, and they might not ask for help. If they are having a hard time dealing with what’s happening, you might notice that they:

  • Change their eating or sleeping patterns
  • Have big mood swings or easily become angry or upset
  • Seem sad, depressed or anxious
  • Withdraw, become very quiet, or act less social
  • Become mean or aggressive
  • Start using alcohol or drugs

Healthy conversations

Being there for someone means being a good listener when they want to talk. They may not want to open up straight away, but if they do, pay attention to what they have to say and:

  • Ask them how they are feeling. Let them know it’s okay to feel angry or upset and encourage them to talk about it
  • Give them space if they don’t want to talk, but let them know you are there to listen if they need you
  • Assure them the separation is not their fault
  • Reassure them that they are loved, that you care about them, and that you are there for them
  • Keep what they are going through confidential, unless they are okay with you telling other people
  • Remember it's your job to listen, not solve the problem

Taking action

There are lots of little things you can do to help make the situation a bit easier. Find a way to connect, be a good listener, and stay involved.

For parents or caregivers of a young person:
 

  • Remember to check in with the kids and try to get them talking. It can be easy to get caught up in the situation and assume the rest of the family is okay
  • Try not to fight with or badmouth your partner in front of your children
  • Keep your children informed of the changes occurring, ask for their input and try to make changes that suit their needs too
  • Keep to a routine. Be as consistent as you can in everyday tasks such as picking them up and dropping them off at school, or helping with their homework
  • Help to support your kids the best you can. Make sure you are not relying on them to support you
  • Ensure you have a support network yourself: a counsellor or therapist, friends and other family members can be a huge help

For family and friends of a young person:
 

  • Do fun things together to take their mind off what’s happening at home
  • Be a good listener when they are ready to talk
  • Stay involved in the person’s life - be there for them when they need you
  • Check in, ask them how they are doing and how you can support them

Resources

Skylight – Family Break up

Skylight offers a wide range of services to support people facing change, loss, trauma and grief. It has a range of resources about how to support young people through family break-ups.

Family Justice

The Family Justice system is designed to help people resolve family issues, where possible, without going to court.

Youthline

Confidential Helpline: 0800 376 633

Youthline provides free phone, text, and email counselling support. Its website has great information for youth dealing with challenging situations, including a section on family relationships.

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