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Ready, Set, Parent

By Don Cook

What are your psychological suggestions for children of newly divorced parents?

Oftentimes when two people are getting a divorce, it can lead to much stress between both parties. If it’s causing you stress, odds are it’s stressful on the children as well. A lot of divorces tend to put the children in the middle, which is not usually the intention, but ends up happening. Children do not fully understand what is happening, and that can lead to anxiety and the feeling of being pulled in both directions emotionally simultaneously. 

The first and most important thing both parents can do while going through a divorce is to acknowledge that it is going to be stressful on their child or children, and to ensure that the stress is as minimized as much as possible. Talk to your children, acknowledge their emotions toward it, and help them work through it. Just as it can be an emotionally taxing experience for both parents, it can and will be the same for your children. There are behaviors to look for that indicate that they are having a hard time with the divorce. 

Some of those behaviors to look for are: 

● Guilt

● Anxiety

● Behavior issues

● Regression

● Withdrawing

● Trouble focusing

Kids will often feel guilt as if they were the ones who caused their parents to get a divorce. A child’s mind can run rampant trying to process a divorce, and since younger children do not have full awareness of the world around them, they may believe they are the cause of their own parents separating. Carrying the guilt with regards to a separation or divorce is heavy and will likely lead to other long-term behavioral issues. Talking to your children and making them understand that this is not their fault is a must so that they can let go of any guilt that they may be holding onto. 

For children, anxiety can lead to behavioral issues and emotional disconnection. A divorce can mean changes to the family routine as well as the individual routine that the child is used to. If you notice signs of anxiety in your child, the best option is to make it clear what they can expect. Easing their anxiety and making them aware of any changes to routines or the way they live their lives in general will bring calm. 

General behavior issues may start occurring, and this may be that a child is testing what the new boundaries are. If behavioral issues like this are left to continue, they’ll likely get worse until reaching the limit of those new boundaries. Getting a handle on this as soon as it starts to occur will be best for both the child and parent. This can be done by clearly laying out what the boundaries and expectations are. 

For a child, seeing their parents separate or divorce can be a huge change. This may cause them to regress emotionally, socially or behaviorally as a coping mechanism. This may lead to changes in their sleep habits, or in their ability to complete tasks and functions independently. If you notice this starting to happen, they may require a bit extra parental support through the transition. They may need you to help them through things that they once had no problem doing without support. 

You may notice that your children are becoming disinterested in activities they used to enjoy – for example, not wanting to spend time with friends or family. Find ways to create opportunities to spend time with them, suggest a special outing that may be something that they enjoy or another way to bond. Always make sure that you’re available to talk to your child if they want to, and always listen as you may get more insight into how they are feeling based on what they say, especially if it’s not direct. 

Another area that may signify the possibility of anxiety or stress is trouble focusing at home or in school. Try to create a predictable, reassuring routine at home, including a regular homework routine. It also may be a good idea to talk to your child’s teacher about the divorce, so that they are aware of the situation and your child can get extra support at school if they need it.

Some key points to try are to be calm as often as possible, as they will pick up on that. Sometimes things get heated, and arguments happen, but try to always be as civil as possible with your ex, especially in front of children. Lastly, with any type of major change in life or during times of stress, support is available if needed.

For more information on suggestions for children of newly divorced parents, visit ChildMind.org.

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