It is never an easy decision to separate or divorce. Even as adults it can be a very taxing process in which we lose our identity, friends, family members, and some financial freedoms. Our adult brains can rationalize or even anticipate the changes that will be coming upon us, but what does it mean for the kids? How do they handle the stress of divorce and what does it do to their view of self and family?
A majority of children from divorced homes will not develop major psychological issues from the divorce. Kids are incredibly resilient and intuitive little beings. It is highly important to not let them get lost in the shuffle and turmoil of legal proceedings and divorce decrees. Children are not objects nor are they prizes to be won. They will be experiencing their own levels of loss. And they will be attempting to reconcile what is happening in their own minds. While a divorce may be a lasting sad memory for them, it doesn’t have to be detrimental to their development. If parents take the right steps, avoid conflict and do not put children in adult positions, the ability for them to create healthy, bonded relationships with both parents can exist.
Set the Tone for Your Children
You and your soon to be ex will set the tone for your children. Young children look to their parents for safety. And they will be highly dependent on the parents for social cues and other ways of learning about the world. Divorce may shake their foundation of trust and may show some regressive behaviors. Teenagers are more independent but still will react to the changes in the family dynamic. They will have feelings of loss or grief far sooner than the child as they are able to realize the finality of the divorce. Teenagers may become more defiant and unruly as they project anger or unresolved emotions from the divorce.
It is important to remember that kids will sometimes display different reactions in each parent’s home. They may try to cause problems just to get the parents to talk in a misguided effort to reunite the family. Be patient with your former spouse, be gentle with your child, but seek out the truth. Try to work as a team to your best ability and help the child understand the new situation and what will and will not be acceptable behavior. The more you and your ex can co-parent successfully, the better the long term will be. Badmouthing or other negative behaviors by the parents can make the child feel they have to take sides and defend the other. They will remember this as adults, so be sure you are modeling appropriate emotional processing to the kids.
Try to set up new routines and traditions to establish a new family order. Encourage the child to talk to both parents. Be sure to remind them how important they are to you and that you still love them unconditionally.
How long does it take to adjust?
There is no timeline on how a child will process and recover from divorce. Some kids are more resilient than others and some have better self-soothing skills. Kids can benefit from speaking with a counselor to help process the divorce. Some signs that your child may need to talk to someone would be: an increase in symptoms such as problems eating or sleeping, deteriorating grades, increased agitation, separation anxiety, difficulty concentrating, increased agitation, feeling sad, angry, or defiant. Don’t hesitate to seek counseling if your child’s symptoms persist over several weeks. Or if they interfere with their normal functioning or the functioning of your family.
We’re Here for You Too!
Divorce is a huge upheaval for everyone involved. It is never intended to hurt children in the divorce process. But noticing your child’s behavior changes isn’t always a bad sign. They trust you enough to be vulnerable and truly exhibit the emotions they are carrying. Take this as a valuable time to seek out additional supports to be sure you and your children are able to work through this road bump and continue to live a fulfilling, happy life.
If you or a loved one are going through a divorce and would like to seek some professional guidance for the family, contact us here! We would love to help! Connect with us in either of our locations in the South Hills of Pittsburgh. We are currently accepting a limited number of new patients, so check out our videos to learn more about how we can help you navigate parenting shame.
* This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please contact a medical professional for advice.