Where there’s divorce there’s usually conflict, almost always, the only thing that will differ is the intensity and duration of the conflict.
Helping children cope with divorce from the get go is vital if you’re to avoid as many negative effects of divorce on children as possible.
We all agree that conflict is a normal part of family life. What matters is how parents deal with it, how they resolve it and how they practice helping children cope with the situation.
There are many children of divorce who have had to endure, continuous conflict over several years while their parents learn how to cope with divorce and continue in their life post-divorce.
Living in a world where they are continuously faced with the uncertainty and fear of when the next fight or argument will come means they are living in a state of perpetual anxiety. They may have done so over several years at which point this state of existence seems like the only thing they know.
Over time though, you may notice changes in your little one in which case you may need to seek help in order to restore their world into a less dangerous conflictual place and reduce the anxiety that maybe affecting them physically, emotionally and behaviourally.
Children of divorce have a way of learning how to cope with difficulties and this may in turn translate into them seemingly able to cope, but in reality, this coping mechanism maybe but a defence mechanism initiated by them to protect themselves from the insecure environment in which they exist.
You are your child’s best expert so you’ll know best if he/she is experiencing any of the following and how serious the situation maybe.
- Behavioural problems. This is perhaps the most common and/or the most noticeable change. Children will often express stress, the lack of adequate support and anxieties through behaviour as opposed to words. Depending on their age or maturity level, your child may not have the necessary vocabulary needed to express how they feel and even they may not understand why they feel or behave as they do.
- Sleep disturbances. Your child is finding it difficult to fall sleep or remain asleep through the night or you may find that your child is sleeping more than usual (which maybe very normal in adolescence). Either way, their usual sleep pattern is disturbed and erratic.
Psychosomatic symptoms. Your child maybe suffering from physical pain, which is very real to him/her but the doctors cannot find anything wrong with him/her. This could be caused by the stressful situation in which they live. Think of yourself when you are stressed – do you suffer from throbbing headaches, upset stomach or lower back pain. Where in your body do you feel the discomfort of your environment? Same thing applies to your child.
- Underachievement at school mainly due to lack of concentration. Continuous conflict has a way of making it’s way into our system. Depending on the severity of the conflict at home, your child maybe suffering from lack of sleep coupled with stomach upset resulting in reduced concentration in the classroom.
- Regression. Where you child is now showing behaviour more consistent with his/her younger self; behaviours that they had outgrown but have now reverted back to, may include bed wetting, language (using baby talk for certain words) and a relapse in milestones once achieved now “forgotten”.
- Where your child is no longer interested in things that she/he used to enjoy doing or taking part in. Withdrawal from activities that he/she once enjoyed either at school or at home and preferring to alone time in a melancholic sort of way as opposed in replacing those past activities with new ones.
We, as adults and as parents, can and do underestimate children’s ability to understand and deal with feelings and relationships.
Like any other child in distress, children of divorce will appreciate you speaking with them and answering their questions as much as and as best as possible as you can. This can go a long way in helping them deal with the situations.
It only takes a couple of minutes to stop, look and listen to our children. Those couple of minutes are likely to determine how your child feels and behaves for the rest of the hour, day etc.
Give them permission to speak with you or someone they trust about the divorce and the situation in which they are currently living. Doing this can open doors for communication to happen spontaneously in the future hence avoiding a whole lot of problems down the line.
Just letting them know it’s ok to ask and to enquire what happened and what is going on and letting them see that you, as the parent, can handle and contain their fears, worries and anxieties allows them to come to you.
If you are concerned about your little one(s) don’t hesitate to contact me on 07850 85 60 66 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Soila is the founder of The Divorce Magazine and creator of the online course – Helping Children Cope with Divorce
She is known for taking away the pain of trauma and loss in children, adolescents and their families and is the author of “When Love is Broken. A read-together book for children and parents going through divorce and separation.
Soila holds an MSc in Psychoanalytic Developmental Psychology from UCL (University College London), is an accredited Positive Parenting Program (Triple P) practitioner and a trained Family Mediator.
Soila is Graduate Member of the British Psychological Society.
You can contact her on 07850 85 60 66 or via email email@example.com