We’ve all heard the lingo: Child of divorce. From a broken home. Such phrases are so commonplace today that they’ve become cultural catchphrases, even punchlines. Of course, nobody wants to apply those terms to their own children. Not to your babies. Divorce is hard enough; broken hearts and shattered dreams.
Divorce doesn’t mean your home or your family is broken, however, and it certainly doesn’t mean your children have to be broken either. This article shows you how to spot the signs that your children are struggling in the wake of a divorce, and it provides strategies you can use today to support your children’s mental health during this challenging time.
Be the Security Your Children Need
Divorce is, by its nature, contentious. It is a time of angst, conflict, and worry, and it doesn’t come out of nowhere. It’s always preceded by a period, often a long period, of strife in the home. You may have worked hard to keep the difficulties in your marriage hidden from your children, or your children may have been front-and-center spectators. Regardless, the odds are strong that your children have known for a good while that something wasn’t right in your home, and now they’re about to have their fears realized.
That means that your children are going to be looking to you for the security, stability, and reassurance they’ve been needing. Your children will need honest but age-appropriate answers about what is happening and what they can expect for the future.
Children also need clarity, routine, and familiarity. They need a schedule they understand and can depend on, and they need predictable quality time, whenever possible, with both parents. Above all, they need your calmness, strength, and affirmation. You may feel the need to tell your children every day that you will love them no matter what, but now, more than ever, they need to hear it.
Children, after all, have a remarkable capacity to blame themselves. They’re likely going to be figuring out all the ways that the divorce is their fault, even if they’re not expressing these thoughts out loud. They’re also worried that loving the other parent and spending or wanting to spend time with that person means they’re being disloyal to you.
Being the security your children need in this turbulent time means putting your own resentments and anger aside and making your children the priority. That includes teaching your children that they don’t have to choose between you and your spouse. They need reassurance that the divorce has nothing whatsoever to do with their relationship with mom and dad. That the divorce will never deprive them of both their parents, even when you’re living apart.
Being the safe haven your children’s needs is far easier said than done. If you’re going to walk the talk, you have to take your own inventory and recognize when your actions are hurting your children. Many parents would be incensed by accusations that they are abusing their children, but abuse comes in many forms.
The worst but most common form of abuse is emotional, not physical. You can be emotionally abusing your child, changing their world, sense of self, and entire future happiness and security without even knowing it. If you argue with your former spouse in front of your children, especially when it concerns adult issues such as finances or custody considerations, you’re robbing your children of their sense of safety and security.
That is why the period after a divorce is so critical, not only for your children but also for yourself. This is the time you determine your values and what kind of parent you want to be. Above all, it’s the time to put those values into action. As you see yourself beginning to live according to your beliefs, both for yourself and your babies, chances are you’re not only going to get better at it, but you’re also going to have more confidence, strength, and courage to shepherd your children through this difficult time.
Recognize The Warning Signs
It’s difficult to predict how a child will react to divorce. Your child may cover her feelings in an effort to please you or to avoid causing you more distress, or he may be more outspoken with his feelings, acting out in obvious ways. No matter how your child may appear on the surface, there are certain signs that you should look for that indicate your child is in distress.
A first indication is when a normally happy and well-behaved child suddenly begins throwing temper tantrums. Tantrums never just “happen.” Tantrums are always rooted in frustration, in your child feeling that her needs aren’t being met. The causes may be benign such as wanting a particular toy or wanting to stay up past bedtime.
The sources of temper tantrums may also run deeper and may be related to the divorce. Your child may be missing the other parent, or they may be worried about making new friends if they’ve changed schools. The important thing is to encourage your child to express the source of their frustration so you can acknowledge those feelings and work with your child to find a solution.
Another significant sign that your child may be struggling is when she begins having trouble in school. Her grades may begin to slip or she may start cutting classes or faking excuses to get out of school. Again, this doesn’t just happen. For your child, perception is reality, and your child may not have the coping skills to manage both the stresses of school and the stress of the divorce. Your child, for instance, may fear the reactions of her friends and classmates when they learn about the divorce.
Divorce is one of life’s most traumatic experiences, but it can be especially hard on children. That is why it is imperative that you take proactive measures to protect your children’s mental health during this pivotal time. This includes being a constant source of safety and security for your children.
It means putting your children’s needs ahead of your own, learning to recognize the signs that your children are struggling, and responding quickly, effectively, and with love.
If you need professional assistance to help your children, or to manage your own mental health during a divorce, consider the benefits of online counseling. We recommend both BetterHelp and Talkspace (affiliate links), two of the most beloved and well-regarded online counseling platforms out there. Both offer access to your own licensed therapist via chat, phone, or video, all for one low monthly fee.
- Children and Divorce
- Preventing Mental Health Effects of Divorce on Children
- 7 Tips On How To Protect Child Mental And Emotional Health During A Divorce
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