When there is a marital separation, it is often said that those who suffer most are the children .

This, on many occasions, is absolutely true. On many occasions, the quarrels, conflicts and bad atmosphere between the two ex-spouses end up seriously affecting the life and harmony that every child deserves in his or her life. A family environment that goes through a marital break-up can present levels of stress and pessimism that can affect the child psychologically.

Bárbara Zapico talks about separations, from the child’s point of view

To find out more about these painful processes of divorce and separation, especially from the perspective of the child, we talked to Madrid-based psychologist Bárbara Zapico, an authority on couples therapy who will shed light on this issue.

Bertrand Regader: What are the most frequent forms of discomfort complained of by children of couples who have divorced?

What children can complain about most is non-communication. Children, regardless of their age, need to be told about the situation. You don’t have to count on hair and signs of what has happened in the couple, but you do have to make them aware of the situation and not leave them out of it, as they belong to the family.

In legal proceedings involving marital problems or crises and divorce, there is sometimes talk of a concept called Parental Alienation Syndrome. What is it, and why does it cause controversy, in your view?

Parental Alienation Syndrome (SAP) is a series of symptoms that occur in children as a result of the influence of one parent on the child’s rejection of the other, usually in situations of separation/divorce. This would be a behavior of disability, without justification.

It causes so much controversy because to date the APA has not recognized it as a disorder. On the other hand, it is very complicated to diagnose it since sometimes the child himself rejects the evaluation coerced by the parent who applies it. It is also important that when we talk about a diagnosis we really make sure that there has not been mistreatment of the children by one of the parents.

In what ways can a situation of parental alienation have an impact on a child’s psychological well-being?

The consequences for children can be very harmful, causing psychological disorders such as anxiety, sadness… It is an affectation that produces a cognitive, behavioral and emotional alteration. The child is manipulated in such a way by one of the parents, that he or she comes to despise, hate, reject the other, without the latter having had a disruptive behavior with the child.

Is it common for children to have traumatic memories when their parents separate on bad terms? What can be done to let children know that their parents are separating or getting divorced? And what common mistakes are made? And what can be done to prevent them from feeling unprotected or lonely, when they stop living with both parents?

The appearance of traumatic memories can occur in adult life when one is aware of the way in which one’s parents separated and what involved them in that action. When the child is small, many times he is not aware of the extent that the behavior that his parents can exercise over him can have, since they are his figures of attachment that protect him, take care of him and give him affection.

The communication of a separation, has to be done when it is going to materialize. We cannot transmit information that is still in the air, because we destabilize children. We cannot lie to them, but neither can we make them dizzy. Both parents must talk to the child/children and tell them that they will now live in two different houses, that they will have two rooms, that their life will change…

We can’t tell them that we are playing a game and that they are going to have two houses… in short, we can’t deceive them, because children are much more aware of things than we think and they also have feelings that are not being taken into account.

The important thing is the organization. You can make a chart of the days of the week you will be with each parent so that they know. Transmit love, confidence, ask them how they are every day, be interested when they are not with you…

When offering psychological therapy to these minors who have suffered from the confrontation between their parents, what can be done to help them?

First of all, it is important to know that if both parents do not agree that the child should come or consult, he or she cannot be treated, except in cases where one of the parents has parental authority.

Generate a stable, reliable environment that allows them to express, if necessary, their anger and frustration about the situation.

What is the fundamental idea that a child has to stay with when it comes to understanding what is happening in a process of separation?

The main idea is that he is not responsible for the separation. Depending on your age, you will be told some things or others, depending on your ability to understand. The child must be told that both parents will not stop loving him because they see him less and that if he needs to ask questions or needs to talk, he can count on both of them at all times.