Any kind of change or transition is hard…be it moving from one place to another, addition of a new family member, death of a family member/friend, separation, divorce or remarriage. Some transitions can be positive for people while others may leave a long-lasting negative impact on a person, especially a child. Going through something like divorce is never easy for an adult or for a child, but it can be particularly difficult for a child. Even though every child may deal with such a transition as divorce differently, there are implications to a child witnessing their parents go their separate ways. No matter what the reason might be for divorce, it means that the child would be facing multiple stressors. How a child deals with such stressors depends upon his/her age, gender and where they are developmentally. It becomes crucial for the parents to be able to help and prepare children for what is in store for them as they go through this process together.
Milne (2004) in her article “Impact of Divorce on Children” writes, no matter what age the children might be, their world is shaken.
- There are some universal worries that they may experience, like grieving over the “loss” of one or both the parents after divorce and remarriage, feelings of abandonment…that no one loves me; children or adolescents might start internalizing the problem, feeling that it’s all their fault and might feel helpless and powerless.
- Some ways in which the impact of separation or divorce may manifest itself in children of different age levels [may include a wide range from] sleep difficulties to acting out behaviors like throwing temper tantrums to substance or alcohol use and abuse and can even escalate to violence towards self or others.
- Some other manifestation of the impact might include school problems (academics or conduct), anxiety, nervous or regressive behavior like bed-wetting or being overly attached to comfort items like blankets or stuff toys.
Here are some things that can be kept in mind when helping children understand the situation and help cope.
- It can be helpful for parents to sit together with their children and break the news.
This meeting should not be just about breaking the news but listening to their children as well and empathizing with them
- The parents might have more than one meeting to help children process their thoughts and feelings and voice their concerns about the situation.
- This is also a good opportunity for parents to assure children that all their needs would be met despite the divorce happening and that they would still love them and care for them.
- It is very important for parents to stay away from giving false hopes to their children.
During Divorce Process:
- Remember that not only they are emotionally and psychologically fragile but the children are also going through a rough phase seeing their parents part way.
- It is crucial at this time for parents to be mindful of how they react to their partners in front of their kids.
- Arguing in front of the kids is a big “no-no,” and parents need be on guard about what they say about their spouse in front of their kids.
- Try to be consistent with parenting, even with changes in living situations.
- Seek outside help and support (other family members, friends and people in the church or community, professional help) for oneself and one’s children.
- Set up regular visitations.
- Do not interrogate the child about their visit to their ex-spouse’s house.
- Do not make children confidants against the previous spouse.
Divorce is a tough and taxing process. Many parents get so stuck in the “here and now” that they fail to realize the long-term implication of their decision on their children. It is helpful for the parent/s to have a professional (a counselor or a pastor) along their side who can walk with them through this process, educating them not only about the implications but also giving them some practical skills and tools to help their children through this painful transition. A professional can also help parents and children adjust to a new life in the most caring and loving way they can.
At IDEALS for Families and Communities, you will find trained professionals who are more than willing to walk with you through this journey and help you find ways to help yourself and your children cope with the challenges that this “transition” brings in one’s life.
-Arpita Eusebius, Staff Therapist
Milne, D. (2004). Impact of Divorce on Children. Retrieved from http://extension.missouri.edu/extensioninfonet/article.asp?id=2150