The kids are alright.
Four words that put any parent at ease. But what if you feel the kids aren’t alright? What if you find yourself post-divorce with children struggling to adjust to their new normal. You’re not alone. Although many kids of divorced parents end up to be well-adjusted adults, there’s usually a phase after the separation where your child struggles. There are signs to know if your tots are being negatively affected by the split, and adjustments you can make as a parent to raise a healthy and happy child.
How to Tell if a child is Being Negatively Affected by Divorce
If your child is showing signs of guilt, don’t panic. This is a common response to the split of parents. Whether a separation or divorce; kids often feel as though they’re the reason for the split, and internalize it as blame. If your child says things like…
Why doesn’t mommy/daddy love us anymore?
Everything’s my fault!
Did I make mommy/daddy mad?
…then they’re probably harboring feelings of guilt.
Anger is an easy sign to spot but can present itself in many different ways. Children can become angry with themselves, saying things like, “I’m so stupid!” or “I can’t do anything right!” Fury can also fester and present itself in school. If phone calls from the principal’s office have increased since the separation, it’s probably due to an increase of anxiety within your youngster. Another form of anger can take place at home. Getting easily upset, throwing tantrums, even giving the silent treatment are common forms of fury within the household.
Sometimes children will regress back into old habits and trends as a sign of insecurity and worry. For example, if your child overcame issues of bedwetting, but began wetting the bed again after the divorce, this is a sign of regression. Backsliding can also occur in school. Falling back into poor study habits is typical. Worry and insecurity take over your child’s mind, preventing them from progressing.
Fortunately, these signs are all detectable and reparable.
Ways to Minimize Impact of Divorce on Children
Especially for children showing signs of guilt, reassurance is particularly important. Provide reassurance by showing love for your child. If your child is comfortable, then love can come in the form of hugs and kisses. You may also simply tell them that they’re loved. Not only by you but by your ex-partner.
Reassurance also occurs by following through. If you’ve told your child something will happen, do your best to ensure it does. This lets your child know that your time with them is important to you. It puts them at ease.
Don’t Encourage Your Child to Take Sides
As I mentioned, regression is a sign of insecurity and worry. Two emotions often emerge if children are forced to make difficult decisions. One difficult decision you never want your child to have is determining whose side to pick. Never encourage little ones to take sides, no matter the negative emotions you have towards your ex-partner.
This process includes refraining from negative statements towards the other party. Do not speak poorly about your ex in front of your children. Be mindful of where your children are if you’re having a phone call or private conversation, even if you’re not speaking negatively directly to your child, it’s equally detrimental if they overhear it being said to someone else. Stay neutral and stay focused on appearing a united, at least cordial, front.
Normalcy is key. You create normalcy for your child by forming a set schedule for both parties to work around. Routine can range from everyday activities to yearly events. For example, having set meal times and play dates removes stress, uncertainty, and anxiety. Another example is a vacation. If you went on a summer vacation every year while you were married, try your best to continue the tradition. At this point, they probably won’t be as an entire family unit, but nonetheless, it’s helpful to the child.
Stay Firm in Parenting Practices
I often see parents let go of their typical parenting styles after a divorce or separation. Strict parents become accommodating and lenient because they feel it will help the child’s transition from a two parent to one parent household. Surprisingly enough, giving your child dessert before dinner or allowing them to stay up past their bedtime won’t make them feel better. In the immediate short term it may help, but in the long term, it creates uncertainty and unclear boundaries. Boundaries make a child feel safe, so stick to the status quo.
Honesty is the Best Policy
Children love asking questions. I mean, how many times have you heard the question, “Why?” I know I stopped counting after the 100th time. Kids are curious and find comfort in answered questions. The same curiosity applies to children of divorce. If your little one asks about family and separation related topics, make them feel comfortable. Let them know it’s okay to share their feelings and concerns, and that there’s no such thing as a dumb question. Be as appropriately and respectfully honest with your kids as possible to avoid anger and confusion.
Although every child reacts differently to divorce, all kids want the same things. Stability, shelter, certainty, and love. Whether your child is being negatively affected by divorce or not, these tools will maintain the fact that the kids are alright.