Family breakdown and children

Family breakdown and children

How does family breakdown affect the little ones? What can we do to make separation less traumatic for children?

Family breakdown and children

Last update: May 15, 2022

Depending on the circumstances, a separation or divorce can have more or less significant effects. For each family member, a similar event has different consequences. In the case of children, family breakdown can create a difficult situation, which deeply affects them.


The breakdown of the family unit, or family breakdown, certainly does not leave children indifferent. For them, the changes and stress that this condition can cause have major consequences.


One of the temptations that a couple that separates should never fall into is manipulation and disrespect. It is necessary to pay attention to language and absolutely avoid insults. We must remember that the well-being of children comes first.

Having to take sides with one of the parents is detrimental to children's mental health. They may feel forced and obligated to demonize the other. This does not make the transition to the new family reality easy.

Changes in the house

When one of the parents leaves, it is as if he leaves the other "incomplete". Children perfectly perceive these changes. But it is often difficult to explain the reasons for the separation to the little ones. The effort, therefore, must not be directed only to the explanation of the causes. The physical, emotional and psychological safety of the little ones must be guaranteed at all times.

For a child, the essential thing is to know that the parents will continue to take care of him. He will have to be sure that despite the separation, things will not change. This will also allow him to accept a new family member in the future. It is normal for parents to decide to rebuild a life with another partner.



From security to uncertainty

Family breakdown can mean the transition from a stable economic level to a more precarious one. Before there was a balanced, orderly and safe life. Now, the family is besieged by economic threats that can affect the well-being of children. Ideally, the perception of changes was progressive and not abrupt.

The "suitcase children" of family breakdown

Shared trust is one of the solutions proposed by the legislation. It arises from the need to guarantee the shared physical attention of the child by both parents, but it often has a consequence: children become like suitcases. They are forced to change rooms often, they come and go all the time… It is as if they do not belong to any house.

Many children react very badly to changes in routines and relationships. They must continually adapt to new environments, schedules and rules. This is a situation that often leads to the development of emotional deficiencies.

Fear, distress and stress caused by family breakdown

One of the most common reactions to these changes is fear. The child is afraid of what might happen in the near future. Will my parents still want me? What do I have to do now? Will I see my friends again?

These are just some of the questions that the little ones ask themselves in these cases. If they don't get answers from adults, they can suffer from emotional alterations.

It is therefore essential to transmit security to children. They must be shown that the bond of affection and love between parent and child will remain intact. Despite these precautions, it can still happen that the child expresses discomfort, especially in the early stages of the breakup.


In situations of family breakdown, older siblings can be a point of reference; for the little ones they are the link to better understand what is happening. This family and emotional bond is highly recommended in these circumstances. It helps them understand why parents don't seem to care about them anymore because of the problems.



Behavior changes

During divorce or separation, children can experience major changes in behavior. They often hide a need for attention or to get closer to their parents. If mom and dad get together to scold him, they think, they'll sort things out between them.

This aspect is closely linked to one of the most powerful negative emotions typical of every human being: guilt. If a child feels guilty of family breakdown, it is possible that he adopts compensatory attitudes, even self-harm.

It is a defense mechanism used to protect oneself from the pain generated by parental separation. And it is also a reflection of rejection towards breaking up. In these situations it becomes essential to make the little ones understand the difference between the parents' relationship and the bond they maintain with their child. The important thing is to know how to distinguish between a couple relationship and maternity / paternity.


And after the separation?

It is true that family breakdown negatively affects the well-being of children, but it also represents a positive aspect from the point of view of the family climate. When conflicts and tensions between parents cease, the child's quality of life improves considerably.

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