Divorce and separation affect children in many ways: they feel confused, insecure and that no one cares or loves them. Here’s why and what to do.
Both before and after divorce and separation a child’s world is falling apart. Children feel shocked, and experience loss and stability. They fear that they may be left alone or think that the divorce and separation is their fault.
When you separate you decide not only for yourself. Your decision affects others, particularly your children. Their well being must be a priority. Keep in mind that you are separate from your partner, not your children.
After divorce and separation, limit conflict with your ex-partner. Hearing and witnessing conflict frightens children. A child witnessing conflict both during and after divorce and separation finds it hard to adjust to things that are new.
The WAY you handle divorce and separation is the key to how your children cope with it.
Divorce and Separation affects children – be nice to each other
Try to have an amicable relationship with your ex. Be courteous, respectful and consider both side’s views. When problems occur with your children, you and your ex must cooperate to solve them. Remember that you both share common goals and hopes for your children.
Children have a right to be proud of both parents. Do not criticise your ex-partner in front of them. Children are sensitive to criticism of either. They may see the criticism as directed at them. Or start to feel conflicts of loyalty. Be positive about your ex-partner. If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing.
Divorce and Separation affects children – favouring a parent, spying or being a messenger
A child has a right to love and to be loved by parents equally. Do not attempt to make a child choose one or the other. That is too much responsibility. Further, they may feel guilty about the parent they did not choose. They are suffering already. When they are with one parent, they cannot be with the other.
Allow your children to move freely between either parent without feeling they need to report back. Do not question what happens in the other household.
Do not use your child as a go-between. Communicate the things with your ex-partner without the child’s involvement.
Divorce and Separation affects children – stay close
If possible live close to your ex-partner. Children who see both parents regularly are better able to cope. Their daily routines get less disruption, and they can remain seeing their friends. They can attend after-school activities regardless of where they are staying. Both parents need to be involved in every-day child-related chores, not just weekend ‘good time’ visits.
Divorce and Separation affects children – how to let them know
Both parents really need to be present when you first tell your children about divorce and separation. From then on, tell them what is happening. Do this in a neutral way. Be honest. Let your children know that both parents love them and want to be part of their life. Reinforce by hugs, touching and just being near them.
Divorce and Separation affects children – how children communicate their distress
Possible behavioural changes may include not seemingly communicating their feelings. Few children can do this in words. They express those feelings via their behaviour. Younger children fear the remaining parent might also leave and become very clingy. Some may get withdrawn. Some regress in their development expressed in their toileting, sleeping and language. Older children may become rebellious, angry and aggressive. All may experience sleeplessness and nightmares.
Divorce and Separation affects children – pay attention to a child’s non-verbal communication
Be patient and listen. Let a child be honest about how they feel. Few able to express feelings and emotions in words. Provide drawing, painting, collage, clay and other mediums. These allow your children to express their feelings in play. Allow them to be angry. Reinforce that whatever they say or do, you still love them.
Divorce and Separation affects children – love, routines and structures
Stability is very important for children (even if you have to pretend). Create routines, structure and loving care for your children. The sooner you do this, the quicker and better their adjustment. Children must have security, familiarity and dependency. They need to know what is to happen in the future.
Divorce and Separation affects children – support
Encourage your children to seek social support from friends, relatives and teachers.
Divorce and Separation affects children – the changeover period
Children may be reluctant to leave the home they are currently in – go to that of the other parent. When they return, they may be irritable, withdrawn, distressed or behave differently. This does not mean that they did not like being in the other home. Nor does it mean do not want to return. It may simply be that they feel sad to leave. Acknowledge conflicting emotions. Be sympathetic and loving towards your children. Give them time to settle back in.
All children fantasise that their parents will get back together. Such wishful thinking helps dampen the painful feelings of loss. The sooner the children learn the inevitability of separation, the better for their well-being. Do not recreate ‘happy’ family celebrations, or holidays together. This is not helpful. It only prolongs their acceptance of that inevitability of the separation.
Children need to adjust to the separation and accept its inevitability before you introduce the new partner.
Divorce and Separation affects children – even with your best efforts your children may not adjust
- Is your child having trouble at school or with peers?
- Sleeping badly and or have nightmares?
- Withdrawing from previously loved people or activities?
- Frequently angry and violent?
- An older child using drugs or alcohol?
- Have an eating disorder?
- Self-harming, such as cutting or injuring themselves?
Any or all of the above are warning signs.
For advice on divorce and separation contact Maarit now for an initial free consultation for your child.
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