For a child, divorce may feel like the end of their world as they know it. Where they previously relied on the predictability and security of their family unit, that forever changes. And in their minds, things may never be the same again.
Its no wonder then, that divorce can have such serious effects on the children, particularly those that are old enough to understand what’s happening, yet still young enough to feel dependent upon Mom and Dad for their safety and happiness.
As a result of this shift, children often react to divorce with a wide range of behaviors, many of which can be dangerously self-destructive. Common signs that your child is feeling the impact of the divorce process include:
Aggression: Children often react to divorce with anger and aggressive behavior. While their feelings are understandable, it is important that parents address the aggression or defiance as soon as it erupts to prevent the behavior from escalating. Some children may also feel the need to take sides, particularly if the divorce is a volatile one and the result is serious aggression against one parent while clinging to the other.
Withdrawal: Many children going through a divorce will withdraw from the family unit completely, alienating both parents as well as siblings and even their friends. This type of behavior can quickly lead to depression so its imperative that parents be aware of the warning signs and address any unusual behavior as soon as it appears.
Disruption in School: Children going through a divorce often take their frustrations out in school. This can result in lower grades, conduct marks and even parent-teacher conferences.
Guilt: One of the most common misconceptions of children in a divorce is that the split is somehow their fault. This can lead to a tremendous amount of guilt and even cause the child to believe that its their responsibility to get the parents back together.
In truth, there is no easy way to divorce, especially when children are involved but there are things that parents can do to make the transition a bit less painful and hopefully, minimize the trauma suffered by their kids.
First and foremost, understand that the divorce represents a serious disruption in the child’s routine and despite their complaints, children rely heavily on routine. Therefore, its extremely important that both parents quickly establish a new routine that creates as little disruption to the child’s regular schedule as possible.
Its also important that both parents stay involved with the child through the entire process, providing reassurance, stability and a large amount of understanding. Keep the communication lines open. Encourage your child to talk to you about their concerns. Let them know that even though your living arrangement is changing, you both still love them very much and you’ll continue to enjoy the close relationship they’ve come to rely on.
Let your child know that the divorce has nothing to do with your love for them and it isn’t their fault in any way. When speaking to your child about your soon-to-be ex spouse, speak only in terms of admiration and love. Refrain from complaining to your child or expressing any anger, resentment or other negative feelings about your spouse.
Remember, even though you are no longer partners in marriage, you’re still partners when it comes to parenting. So the more effectively you can demonstrate that partnership to your child, the more secure they will feel.