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Separate ways

Helping children through the difficult time

When parents go their separate ways

Home is the most important place in a child's life. Everything can be shaken up when parents separate. For children, this is often accompanied by fear, sadness, uncertainty and many questions. It is important that even in the event of a separation, the well-being of your child is the focus. In North Rhine-Westphalia, numerous counseling centers offer advice and help on how you can continue to be there for your child.

Trennung mit Kind

What does a separation of parents mean for children?

When the familiar family life breaks up, it is a drastic break in life for children - regardless of the age at which they experience the separation. A permanent separation triggers strong feelings and often has far-reaching consequences for the future:

  • It is feelings such as grief, anger and fear that almost all children go through in this situation.
  • Not infrequently, children develop feelings of guilt for being (partly) responsible for the separation.
  • The domestic separation, combined with the double household management, can lead to financial constraints that also burden the children.
  • A possible change of residence means for children that they have to cope with a move to a new environment and ggfs. also in another daycare or school to get used to.
  • Frequently, a separation for children means that they see one of the parents less often.

How do children experience a separation of parents?

Often children react very strongly to a separation of parents. The indications that your child is suffering can be very different:

  • It withdraws, is introverted, becomes silent, is often sad, hardly laughs.
  • It shows sleep disorders.
  • It is scared, clings to parents, wants them constantly together.
  • It feels guilty.
  • It has difficulties in school, the grades sag.
  • It no longer wants to meet with friends.

But: Every child reacts differently depending on age and development. Even though your child may not visibly show his feelings to the outside world, he may suffer from the situation.

Reach out to your child when you feel he is not doing well, and be there for him. Talk openly with him about the situation and possible worries and fears. Don't hesitate to take advantage of support or counseling services, such as family counseling.

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How can parents who are separating help their children?

  • Avoid conflicts
    Do not argue in the child's presence or involve the child in the conflict.
  • Show affection
    Explain why it can happen that parents no longer love each other. But always make it clear to your child that nothing changes in the love for him.
  • Avoid too many gifts
    Don't shower your child with gifts or special promotions.
  • Create everyday life
    Help your child live a normal, familiar daily life with school and friends.
  • Be in dialogue
    Discuss with your child how to proceed.
  • Include in decisions
    Involve it in decisions about who it will live with in the future and when it will meet the other parent.
  • Do not dump feelings on the child
    Do not hide your feelings, but do not unload them on the child. Do not make him an ally to the other parent.

What should you pay attention to after the separation?

Children have the right to both parents. The reverse is also true for parents, whether they are married or not:

  • Both parents have the right to see their child.
  • Be fair, look for an amicable and child-friendly solution to problems, even if you as parents the conversation with each other difficult.
  • Stay in the exchange, divide tasks responsibly.
  • Make sure that not one parent is only responsible for everyday life, the other for great leisure activities.

Where can you find counseling and support services?

A separation is associated with strong feelings for the whole family, with unexpected problems, with financial consequences and also with legal issues. So that the well-being of the children in this difficult situation is not lost sight of, parents have a legal right to counseling in conflicts, separation and divorce.

In North Rhine-Westphalia, children, young people and their parents have access to around 270 family counseling centers, where you can get free and confidential advice.

You can ask your youth welfare office about counseling centers in your area. Alternatively, you can also search online for a counseling center:

You can also get online counseling at the bke parent counseling or the bke youth counseling.

More informationLinks for further reading

Parents and children have a right to family counseling. They can seek free and confidential advice on issues relating to separation and divorce at one of the many family counseling centers in NRW.

You can find a counseling center near you via the online counseling guide of the German Association for Youth and Marriage Counseling (DAJEB). Here you will find the entire range of psychosocial counseling centers.

You can find a family counseling center via the counseling center search of the Bundeskonferenz für Erziehungsberatung e.V. (bke)


A guide to contact after separation and divorce can be ordered for a small fee plus shipping costs from the Association of single mothers and fathers.

More informationDownload

The free online brochure "Parents stay parents" of the German Association for Youth and Marriage Counseling" gives practical advice on how to cope with the family crisis.

The brochure "Wechselmodell: Ist das was für uns?" from the Association of Single Mothers and Fathers can help parents decide on a suitable care model.