Children and Divorce
April 04, 2020
Children and Divorce
Today, around one in two marriages end in divorce. The majority of these occur with children under the age of 18. Because parents can represent security for a child, children can become scared and confused when they see their parent(s) hurting or distracted. Therefore, many parents worry about how the divorce will impact their children.
Talk with the Kids
Communicating clearly to your children is critical during the transition of a divorce. Otherwise, children often misinterpret the situation and accept blame, thinking the divorce is their fault. When possible, try to have both parents present to talk with the children. Without a clear, civil conversation, kids often accept the responsibility of trying to get the parents back together. The following key points will help guide your discussion:
- Tell your children what is happening.
- Explain how this will and won’t involve them.
- Ask your children what questions or concerns they have.
- Share with your children what the end result will be.
Extra support and additional conversations will probably be necessary during this transitional time. Children may experience physical, emotional, mental, and/or behavioral reactions to the divorce such as:
- Younger children may regress to childhood behaviors they long outgrew. Desiring a pacifier, wetting the bed, and experiencing separation anxiety are common.
- Older children can experience feelings of guilt, anger, and possibly relief. Depression or anxiety may occur, as well as withdrawal from family and friends. These emotions may trigger them to act out their anger through aggression.
Symptoms and Behaviors to Watch
You may begin to notice some more serious symptoms or behaviors. Do not feel like you are on your own. There are a wide variety of support services available through your child’s school, community organizations, and medical and mental health professionals. Monitor your children to gauge how they are handling the situation, and don’t hesitate to educate yourself about the resources in your community.
If your child is showing signs of aggression at home or school this is an indicator of internal struggle. Children may withdraw from socialization and no longer cooperate with tasks. There could be academic or behavioral problems at school. Specific emotional symptoms might include low self-esteem, moodiness, irrational fears and repetitive behaviors, and a minimal desire to communicate with one or both parents.
The Next Step
Many parents who divorce often start out “parallel parenting.” Here, contact and communication between the former spouses is often quite limited. Though the parents may be heading toward the same parenting goals for their children, their relationship may be fairly difficult. In time, parents often move to “cooperative parenting.” This occurs when ex-spouses are better able to communicate with one another. Scheduling events and making decisions about the kids are made cooperatively.
Strategies for the Family
Without exception, your family will experience change. To minimize the potential negative effects of divorce, consider the following points of wisdom for you, the children, and the dual-households:
Acknowledge- It’s perfectly acceptable to let your children know that what your family is going through is sad. When you express this, it gives your children permission to experience their emotions without feeling guilty or confused.
Support- Look outside your children for your support during this emotionally charged time. It is not their responsibility or within their capability to maintain your emotional health.
Respect- Remember, your ex-spouse is still your child’s mother or father. Refrain from complaining about your former spouse’s flaws and faults in front of them. Likewise, arguments you have should remain private.
Be direct- Your children are not messengers or spies between you and your ex. Be direct when you need information and go straight to your former spouse. It is unfair and awkward to use the kids as a go-between.
Be reliable- Keep your plans with your child. Do not cancel unless absolutely necessary. If the unforeseen does arise, sincerely apologize to your child. Stability and trust are fundamental needs during the divorce transition.
For the Kids:
Prepare- Keep the kids in the loop as much as possible. Springing last-minute changes and decisions on them increases the potential for anxiety, instability, and strained relationships.
Keep it simple- Complicated and confusing details are not necessary when you talk to your kids. Keep conversations regarding their father or mother short, simple, and factual. Avoid your commentary on the situation.
Give permission- Communicate with your child that you desire them to have a good, healthy, and loving relationship with your ex. Unless there is threat of danger (i.e. emotional, physical, or sexual abuse), give your child “permission” to enjoy and foster that relationship.
Release- Clearly affirm that divorce is between parents, not parents and children. Reiterate it is not their fault and release your children from any feelings of guilt.
Reassure- The importance of your love cannot be understated. Reassure your children you will always love them and be their parents. Divorce cannot change that.
For the Household:
Manage finances- Conversations about household finances, as they relate to your ex, and child support should remain private matters. Financial issues should not be discussed in front of the kids.
Have structure- If possible, try to establish similar rules in both households. Structure communicates stability.
Establish a routine- A good routine in the midst of change is helpful. Your child will feel more secure when he or she clearly knows what to expect.
Divorce is painful, but there is help available. Be willing to seek out family counseling or support groups if you feel that your family could benefit from them. You are not the first to navigate the rough waters of divorce; allow the experience of others to help you in this time of transition.
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