Having experienced my parents' separation at a young age, I know firsthand that a separation or divorce can have far reaching effects on your future as well as the future of your children. When separating, it's important to keep in mind that however you as an adult understand and experience your separation; your children see and experience it differently.
From a child's perspective, separation can be stressful and confusing. At any age, children may feel uncertain (or angry) at the prospect of their parents splitting up. They simply do not understand the sudden change and worry about what the future might hold. Separation will have far reaching effects on your children now, and in the future.
Children have a limited ability to understand what is happening during a separation. That doesn't stop them, however, from trying to figure out "the big picture". Children see things from their own perspective, meaning, they see themselves as the cause of events. They often blame themselves or fabricate fictional reasons for their parents' separation; "if only I had behaved better...if only my brother and I didn't fight so much...if only I had helped Mom and Dad get along better...they would still be together".
The best advice is to speak to your children. When possible, speak to them together. As a parent, you need to discuss the separation with your children. Explain the separation to your children; tell them that they are not the cause for your separation. Reassure your children; remind them that you will always love them and be present in their lives.
Although children adapt twice as fast to changes than adults, they have a limited ability to imagine the future and need your help to visualize it. Always keep in mind that children first learn and build their sense of self by watching and interacting with their parents. If your children see a positive interaction between yourself and your former spouse following separation, they will simulate the same.
Children who witness parental arguing will often experience it as though they are personally involved and often get caught in the middle. Children worry about having to take sides and about pleasing both parents; which is a very heavy burden for a child. How you act during separation will determine how your children will act in the future. Create a new normal; start new family traditions with your children post-separation. Work together not against each other; do not speak ill of the other parent in front of the children, and ensure the general daily routine are similar in both households. If you work together to create a positive image for your children following separation, they will adjust and react accordingly.
As a parent, you can make the separation process and its effects less painful for your children. Helping your children cope with separation means providing stability in your home and attending to your children's needs with a reassuring, positive attitude. It won't be a seamless process, but these tips can help your children cope.