Children are amazingly resilient, usually more than adults, but a major change like a divorce affects children in different ways from adults. By paying close attention to your child’s welfare, children can be taught to cope in healthier ways to the changes a divorce brings.
- Children may blame themselves. In fact, the majority do. They think, “If I hadn’t misbehaved, Daddy wouldn’t have left” or “They wouldn’t have been fighting if I’d been good.” It is imperative for parents to talk to their children and stress that it is not their fault. A good way to do this is to explain, based on your child’s age that adults sometimes have problems, but it has no connection to anything they did or did not do.
- Children may have to cope with additional changes brought about by divorce. Many times a divorce results in a move from the family home. A child may have to change schools and leave friends. A previously stay-at-home parent may have to take a job outside the home. It is important to address the other changes in a child’s life and meet their need for security. If the child seems unable to cope, it might be wise to seek professional counseling for the child.
- Children may have to cope with a change of schedule. Routine is comforting to all of us, but even more so with children. With a divorce, there may be different bedtimes, different meal times, or changes in schedule due to babysitters and childcare. As much as possible, keep your child’s schedule the same. Keep consistent schedules between both parent’s homes during visitation, and this will give your child a sense of security.
- Children may seem fine on the surface, but there may be hidden signs of adjustment difficulties. A drop in grades for a child who has previously done well in school, less interest in activities, and playing less with friends may all signal an emotional concern that needs to be addressed. Changes in appetite or sleep patterns may also signal emotional distress. A previously respectful child may begin to act out at home or at school. Be alert to changes your child may not be able to express in words.
- Children may be fearful. Some children begin to have nightmares or show signs of depression. Some children become clingy with one or both parents. Talk to your child and give them reassurance that you understand their fears, but you both will be there to love and care for him or her. The fear response usually lessens as a child learns to feel secure again with the changes in life a divorce brings.
- Children need to be shielded as much as possible from the drama divorce can cause. There are things you shouldn’t do in front of your children that will lessen their fear and insecurity. Don’t argue in front of your child, or tell them about your problems. Avoid putting the other parent down to your child. They love both parents and should not have to choose sides with their loyalty.
- As much as possible, keep your child’s room the same, even if divorce has brought a move to a new home. Keeping the same surroundings brings comfort to all of us, as adults find when they bring along familiar things when they travel. Don’t let divisions of property include the children’s furniture and belongings.
- If the family owns a pet, it should remain in the home with the child if possible. Children need the attention that a pet gives to them as much as adults do. Losing a pet at the same time they are losing time with one of the parents can cause additional stress to an already stressed child.
Divorce definitely affects children, but with some help, reassurance and cooperative parenting your child can come through feeling loved and happy. Experts agree that when handled with patience, it is less stressful for a child to be from a broken home than to live in one, with parents constantly fighting.