Your Survival Kit for Children in Divorce

Overview

Perhaps you know a child whose parents are either going through divorce or are already living separate lives. Maybe you are concerned about the effects of divorce or a break-up on your own young children. Here is what parents and caregivers should know about children experiencing the divorce of their parents.

Divorce is life changing. According to mental health professionals it is only less traumatic than death for adults.
  • Children’s responses include both outward reactions and internal turmoil
  • Dealing with the grief and loss related to divorce can take up to two years to heal
  • In the meantime it is ideal for children to maintain a strong, loving relationship with both parents

Common emotional responses of children

Here are some things that children do when their families are going through divorce:
  • Denial- They want to wish it away and may not want to face up to the changes going on in their lives. This is normal up to a point
  • Self blame- They may believe they are the cause of problems between the adults in their lives
  • Anger-This is also a normal response to loss in children
  • Depression-They might show sadness, fatigue, loss of interest in their favorite activities
  • Fear-Children can harbor both real and imagined fears
  • Acceptance-This comes when the child works though the grief of the losses

When to seek professional help

When you observe the following you should act right away.
  • Behaviors such as talk of suicide and cutting always require professional help
  • When depression or anger seem to be intense or continue for a long time
  • The child shows behaviors like thumb-sucking, bed-wetting, sleep problems that do not go away
  • Destruction of property, lying, stealing, breaking rules, use of drugs are also cause for concern

Important things to do

As the parent or caregiver you can help the child in the following ways:
  • Provide reassurance, comfort, and be available to them
  • Allow children to talk about all feelings, including painful ones
  • Take care of yourself and your own issues. This is very important and will also help the child
  • Try to keep other changes in the child’s life to a minimum
  • As much as possible both parents should act as a team even after separation. Children experiencing divorce do best when the divorcing partners are focused on the best interests of the child
  • Promote a healthy relationship between child and both parents

What NOT to do

Here are some things adults must minimize or avoid:
  • Do not expose kids to a lot of conflict and arguing
  • Do not use children to communicate with ex
  • Do not criticize the other parent in front of child
  • Do not ask the child to choose sides

Resources

AAMFT - This website will give you access to many resources
Voices of Children of Divorce, David Royko, published in 2000 by St. Martin’s Press, NY. The Good Divorce, Constance Ahrons, 1994, HarperCollins, NY.