Children can often feel the same emotions as their parents during separation and divorce.
Common feelings are:
Children sometimes have difficulty in accepting their parents are separating or divorcing. They will often:
- Try to change the subject when you try to talk to them about it
- Not tell teachers, or friends
- Talk about the family as though everything is the way it was before
- Try to plan events involving both mum and dad
- Refuse to spend time with the parent who has left the family home as this makes it “more real” for them.
Children can become angry during their parent’s separation and divorce. Often parents are angry themselves and this can impact on the children. In order to manage your child’s anger well you need to be able to control your own anger. It is important to acknowledge your child’s anger and provide them with an appropriate outlet. When children are angry they can:
- Act out, break rules and test you to the limit
- Blame you or your partner or themselves for the separation
- Have temper tantrums, hit, fight, kick, break toys (younger children)
- Withdraw, disappear to their room, emotionally shut down.
- Behave out of character, play truant from school, start engaging in dangerous activities (teens)
Children often carry a strong belief that if they can change the way they are they can bring mum and dad back together. This can manifest itself in your child:
- Developing phantom physical symptoms- sore tummies so parents are forced to come together
- Blame themselves for mum and dad separating
- Create drama or get into trouble at school so mum and dad are forced to come together
- Try to be a “model” child so mum and dad no longer have anything to fight about.
It is quite normal for you and your children to feel sad about separation and divorce. As with any loss these feelings will diminish with time. Signs to look out for include:
- Drop in academic performance at school
- Withdrawal from social activities
- Difficulty sleeping/ eating
- Low energy, constantly feeling tired
- Cries easily or over reacts to situations.
Over time both parents and children are generally able to accept that separation and divorce is a reality. By accentuating the positives and acknowledging the negatives children will return to their old selves by exhibiting:
- A new sense of energy and enthusiasm
- Have a bright outlook for the future
- Be able to move between mum and dad naturally
Quite understandably, parents can often feel that they are exhausted coping with their own emotions during separation and divorce. With so much going on, parents often fail to notice that their children are also affected or when they do, it is when their children are exhibiting more pronounced behaviours.
It is therefore important to be aware of the above common manifestation of feelings in children and to know how to manage them. Regularly check in with your children and have chats about feelings. If they are very young, get them to draw pictures about their feelings. Make them understand that although you have separated from the other parent, neither of you are divorcing your children. Reassure them that the separation/ divorce is not their fault. Let them know that it is okay to feel sad and angry from time to time. Try not to indulge them to overcompensate for the separation/ divorce – all that serves is to assuage feelings of guilt that you may have. Make them feel safe and secure. Don’t discuss your worries about the future with them. Encourage and nurture their relationship with your ex. It can sometimes be very difficult to do this but this is the key to having secure happy children.
Lastly, don’t fall into the trap of treating your children as a “package”. Each child is an individual and will have a different experience of separation and divorce that is unique to them.
Take time out to speak to your children individually and actively encourage one-to-one time with each child and parent.
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