Children are an essential part of any relationship, and becoming familiar with tips that divorced parents can incorporate to help children cope better with a divorce is vital. There are many signs that parents can look out for to tell if a child may be struggling, but ultimately, it’s recommended for parents to be clear, understanding, and supportive during this emotional life event.
How to Tell If a Child is Struggling
Divorce can be a stressful time for everyone involved regardless of age. In particular, children can take divorce extremely hard as they’ve become accustomed to having both parents in the home since birth. If a couple is going through a divorce, a child might not talk about emotions or feelings, but instead, revert to behaviors previously outgrown or a change of overall being. Below are a few behaviors and symptoms that may appear if a child is struggling with divorce proceedings:
- Academic or behavioral issues
- Recurring and unwelcomed mood swings
- Less socializing with friends and classmates
- Minimal cooperation and participation in daily tasks
- Decreased self-esteem
- Increased irrational fears such as being separated from either parental figure
- Little to no interest in communication
Even though a divorce is between the married couple, children are still involved in the divorce equation. Both spouses in divorce should become familiar with the many tips to help children effectively cope with the situation and maintain normalcy as best as possible.
Explain the Divorce
Once a couple is sure of divorce plans, it’s recommended to inform the children immediately about what is happening and the decision to live apart. It’s not easy to break the news, but ultimately, the conversation should occur with both spouses present. The discussion will put enough stress on the children as it is, thus any blame should be left out. It’s best if parents practice how the conversation will unfold to ensure neither becomes upset or angry during the discussion. Tailor the discussion to the child’s age as younger children likely won’t understand, but older children may already be cognizant of their parents’ discord.
Children need to be reassured that their parents’ love and caring is still their top priority. Both spouses are encouraged to be aware of words, actions, and consistency during and after a divorce. Reassurance comes in many forms and will likely have to be provided often as children can heal when given the necessary support and love. While it may be tempting to hide certain information from children, it’s encouraged to respond truthfully when a child raises concerns, anxieties, or psychological effects are present. Additionally, physical closeness such as hugs or pats on the shoulder will help the child know that love from each parent exists.
Talk and Address Emotions
After a child learns of divorce plans, both parents are encouraged to check-in regularly with the child. Divorce can bring many emotions that may be unfamiliar to a child, especially sadness and anger. The child must be aware that what is being felt isn’t unwelcomed or incorrect. While it may be painful to hear what the child is experiencing or feeling, parents should strive to be good listeners and assert willingness to understand how the child is coping with the divorce. Encourage an ongoing dialogue, so all emotions are addressed and not kept inside – as many children do this in an attempt not to upset a parent. Below are a few question topics couples going through a divorce can utilize to communicate with a child:
- Recognition of feelings such as sadness or anger
- Feeling of loneliness without the other parent
- Ways to feel better
- Confirmation that it is normal to feel these emotions
It Is Not the Child’s Fault
Often when children are involved in a divorce, they often take on feelings of fault or blame. It’s essential for both parents to reassure the child that they are not responsible for any marital issues. Children will likely take a little while to process the situation before fully understanding and accepting the circumstances. Both parents are encouraged to provide frequent reassurance, so the child knows the decision was based on the married couple’s choice and had nothing to do with the child.
Encourage Positive Relationships
Divorce is a time when emotions are high, but a child should never feel that a choice needs to be made between parents. Both parents should encourage a positive and loving relationship with the other (unless abuse or something more serious has occurred), so the child won’t feel torn or obligated to pick a side. The child should feel comfortable to share happy moments that have happened with both parents without feeling like something should be kept secret. Each spouse should try to respect and care for one another, meaning any negative comments should be avoided even when angry. Children love and need both parents, so working together to make co-parenting function well is a necessity.
Be Open, but Not Too Open
A child will likely have a lot of questions regarding the divorce, meaning both parents should be prepared to navigate these questions with age-appropriate answers. It’s encouraged to avoid relying on a child for emotional support during a divorce as this can add extra stress to a child’s life and potentially sully the perception of one parent. Children should be informed of when the living situation is going to change and visiting the second home to familiarize themselves with the new space should be facilitated. Parenting time schedules should be prepared and presented to the children, so everyone is aware and can adjust accordingly.
Get Guidance and Support
Divorce isn’t something anyone should deal with alone. It’s encouraged to find support groups not only for the parents involved in the divorce but also for the children. Children can see a counselor or therapist to discuss feelings and emotions as well as practice coping mechanisms. Parents can see a parenting expert to help navigate this new way of life and discuss the obstacles it may bring. Getting guidance and support for both the parents and children will help show the child that it’s okay to express feelings, and it’s essential to care for oneself just as much as others.
Address Misbehavior Immediately
If a child is unhappy or upset regarding a married couple’s divorce, he or she may act up in an attempt to get attention or show hidden emotions. The child involved in a divorce could also withdraw or regress from the parents or other children in the family. Children feel the emotions and stress of divorce just as much as the parents, so this behavior isn’t uncommon. Parents are encouraged to prepare for extra quality time, support, and open, honest communication. Rest assured, while misbehavior is unwarranted, once the child adapts to changes, it will likely dissipate.
Children play a significant role in a married couple’s relationship; thus, deciding to move forward with a divorce can be confusing. While each parent needs to care for themselves during this time, care and guidance must occur with the children. Couples are encouraged to be aware of any emotional warning signs and take proper measures to help a child navigate complicated feelings during a divorce. Contact a family law attorney to get guidance and advice in divorce today.
This article contains general legal information and does not provide legal advice. For legal advice, please contact M. Sue Wilson Law Offices directly.