Divorce Through The Eyes Of A Child: The Unseen Emotional Aftermath Parents Should Recognize
While it’s vital to acknowledge the emotional turmoil faced by divorcing partners, an equally crucial and often overlooked aspect of divorce is the psychological effect it has on the most vulnerable members of the family: the children.
Every year, roughly one in two children in the country find their lives upended by their parents’ decision to part ways. The seismic shift in their family structure can leave lasting psychological repercussions, with many children struggling to come to terms with the new reality. In fact, studies have shown that children of divorced parents are more likely to experience academic, behavioral, and emotional difficulties compared to their peers from intact families.
How Divorce Impacts Children
Children’s emotional reactions to divorce vary widely, with feelings such as confusion, guilt, and blame commonly surfacing as they grapple with their new reality. Understanding these emotional responses is critical to helping children cope with their new reality and emerge stronger.
Confusion and Uncertainty
As divorce unfolds, your child may find themselves confused, with the familiar family unit they have known slowly breaking apart. They may struggle to understand the reasons behind your decision, which is likely to cause them to internalize problems, such as depression and anxiety. This sense of instability in their lives can intensify their emotional distress.
Guilt and Self-Blame
In the wake of your separation, your child may grapple with feelings of guilt and self-blame. Multiple studies have found many children feel some level of responsibility for their parents’ divorce. As they try to make sense of the complexities of adult relationships, they may mistakenly believe that their actions or behaviors contributed to your marital discord.
Anger and Resentment
Feeling anger and resentment is also common among children of divorced parents. Your child may direct their anger towards one or both of you, feeling betrayed by the adults they once relied upon for love and support.
Fear of Abandonment and Loss of Security
It’s natural for the child to feel abandoned as they witness the departure of one parent from the family home; they may worry about being left behind or losing the love of their remaining parent. Children from divorced families often experience lower levels of perceived parental support, which can exacerbate their insecurities.
The Impact of Age on Children's Reactions to Divorce
The psychological impact of divorce on children is not a one-size-fits-all phenomenon. Age and developmental stage play an important role in determining how children process and cope with the changes they experience.
For your little ones, the world can feel like a big, scary place in the face of divorce. Preschool-aged children may not fully comprehend the situation, but they can certainly sense the tension in their environment. During this stage, they may exhibit regressive behaviors, such as clinging to you, having tantrums, or even bedwetting. As a loving parent, offer them comfort and reassurance to help them feel safe during this tumultuous time.
This is the time when your child is navigating the world of academia and friendships, and the divorce can create additional hurdles. They may have difficulty focusing on their studies or experience a dip in their academic performance. They may also face challenges in forming and maintaining friendships, as they grapple with their feelings of confusion and sadness. To support your child, maintain open communication, encourage them to express their emotions, and work closely with their teachers to ensure they receive the support they need in school.
The teenage years can be a rollercoaster of emotions, even without the added stress of divorce. As your adolescent child confronts their evolving identity, they may feel a heightened sense of insecurity. Research has shown that teens from divorced families are at an increased risk of engaging in substance abuse and other risky behaviors. During this crucial period, keep the lines of communication open, offer guidance, and seek professional help if necessary.
Strategies for Helping Children Cope With Divorce
Maintain Open, Honest Communication
During divorce, it’s important to talk openly with your child. Let them share their emotions and worries, and listen with care. For example, when explaining the new living arrangements, you might say, “Mom and Dad have decided that we will live in separate houses because we believe it’s best for our family. We both love you very much, and this decision doesn’t change that.”
Be truthful about what’s happening, using explanations suitable for their age. Open conversations will help your child feel heard and supported during this difficult time.
Establish Consistent Routines
Support your child during divorce by keeping daily routines and rules consistent. Collaborate with your co-parent to establish a stable schedule for visits, mealtimes, and bedtimes, making it easier for your child to adjust between homes.
If your child usually has dinner at 6 pm, try to keep that same schedule at both homes. Similarly, if they have a bedtime story routine, continue that tradition in both households. This consistency can bring a sense of comfortable predictability during a time of change.
Promote a Positive Co-Parenting Relationship
A good co-parenting relationship makes it easier for your child to adapt to their new family situation. Be respectful with your ex-spouse – adopt the stance of “Let’s find a solution that works best for our child, even if it means compromising on our preferences.” Put aside your personal differences and focus on the well-being of your child above all else.
This means avoiding making negative comments or expressing blame in your child’s presence, as this can create tension and affect their emotional stability. Instead, model a united front by working together on important decisions, like educational choices or holiday plans, and openly celebrating your child’s achievements with your ex-spouse.
Encourage Connection with Both Parents
For your child’s emotional well-being, it’s essential to maintain strong bonds with both parents. Set up regular phone calls or video chats, maybe even a weekly family call to catch up and stay connected. You could use a shared online calendar to plan special events, like birthdays or school performances, so both parents can be involved.
Make sure your child has quality time with the other parent by supporting their relationship. Encourage them to do fun activities together, like sharing hobbies, going to sports games, or watching movies as a family. This ongoing connection will show your child they are loved, despite the changes in their family.
Seek Professional Therapy if Necessary
If your child is having a hard time dealing with the emotions that come with divorce, it’s a good idea to seek help from a therapist or counselor. Most therapists use play therapy or art therapy to help younger children express their feelings in a safe and comfortable environment. They can also teach coping strategies, like deep breathing exercises or mindfulness techniques, to help kids manage their emotions better.
For older children and teens, a counselor can provide a space for them to openly discuss their feelings, without the fear of judgment or criticism. They can also guide them in processing the changes happening in their family in a healthy way.
Put Your Children First – Get Strong Legal Representation from Our Orange County Family Law Attorneys
At Werno Family Law Solutions, we recognize the profound impact that divorce can have on your family’s emotional well-being, especially for your children. Our skilled divorce attorneys in Orange County, CA will guide you through this challenging journey, placing the needs of you and your children at the forefront. You don’t have to face this difficult time by yourself. Reach out to us online or call us at 714-942-5932 for a free consultation, and let our dedicated lawyers protect your rights and help in your family’s transition through divorce.
Divorce Through The Eyes Of A Child: The Unseen Emotional Aftermath Parents Should Recognize While it’s vital to acknowledge the emotional turmoil faced by divorcing partners, an equally crucial and often overlooked aspect of divorce is the psychological effect it has on the most vulnerable members of the family: the children. Every year, roughly one […]