How divorce and separation affect your child

If their parents are having relationship problems or going through a separation, bad behaviour can be kickstarted in children of all ages. But you can head off tantrums, aggression and backchat if you work as a team, despite your differences, and reach a compromise when it comes to discipline

Discipline issues are all too common when parents are having relationship problems. Battling with your child piles on additional stress when you least need it, but it’s important to try see things from your child’s point of view. They're going through the trauma of seeing their family break up – and it can lead to profound insecurity that manifests itself in aggression, mood swings and backchat.

The trouble is, if parents let their own bitterness get in the way of compromise when it comes to raising their kids, it can make things even worse. Here's our advice for keeping your kids on track during and after your break-up by working together as a parenting team.

Understand where your kids are coming from...

Try to understand your child’s feelings about separation or divorce. They're likely to feel insecure, believing that if you’ve stopped loving each other, you might stop loving them, too. It’s common for younger kids to believe they’re somehow to blame for their parents splitting up, and to feel scared that they may have to choose between their parents, or feel abandoned by the parent who moves out. Bad behaviour, anger and aggression are often a cry for help: your child wants to know that both of you still love them and that you won’t leave them too.

...but don’t excuse bad behaviour

Don't excuse your child's bad behaviour because you feel guilty about the break-up, and think that letting them get away with it will somehow make them feel better. Giving in will chip away at your authority and may turn a minor discipline dilemma into a major discipline disaster.

Accept each other’s different approaches…

A lot of parents use a ‘good cop/bad cop’ system of discipline. It might work well when you’re part of the same family unit but once you split up what will probably happen is that ‘good cop’ parent becomes Fun Mum or Fun Dad and lets the kids break all the rules; while ‘bad cop’ parent (usually the one with custody) has to become even stricter in order to stay organised and in control. It can be very difficult to change your fundamental parenting style, so sit down together and try to compromise by accepting that you just don’t discipline in the same way, and let the trivial things go when the kids are at Dad’s house.

…but resolve your discipline differences

No matter what has happened in your relationship, it’s vital to present a united front to your children – if you don’t you risk them playing you off each other. Try to rise above any anger or bitterness and don’t criticise the way your ex does things or deliberately break the discipline rules just to get even – you’ll just end up confusing your kids.

Make your expectations clear to the kids

Draw up a list of house rules and have a copy pinned up in each home to end any confusion your child may have over different rules for different houses. It’s important to be seen to be supporting each other, so make it clear that there will be a clear and consistent approach to discipline in both households and that if your child loses privileges because of bad behaviour the other parent will follow through at their house.

Do you find that your anger is having an affect on everyone in the house? This article on anger management for parents may help