It is now well recognized that Divorce is one of the most stressful events you can experience with the emotional turmoil that goes with a bereavement. But what about the impact upon the children? Separation is a significant event and change in anyone’s life but children don’t have the same emotional tools and life experience to help manage such a trauma.
In some cases, divorce can cause psychological issues for children. We take a look at how parents can help children adjust.
Divorce or separation affects children differently, but like adults, some are more resilient and able to bounce back faster than others.
The first year is understandably the hardest for most, with a risk of anxiety, distress, disbelief and anger. For many, they adjust to new routines and new living arrangements. However, a small proportion of children experience ongoing difficulties.
The emotional impact of divorce on children
Children have different levels of understanding of what a divorce means and how it will affect their lives.
Young children may struggle to understand why they have to live between two homes and they can sometimes worry that if parents stop loving each other, they could also stop loving their child as well.
Older children could think that the divorce is somehow their fault and that it was a result of their misbehaviour or because they did something wrong. Teenagers may be angry and could blame one parent, or alternatively resent both parents for the disruption and change in the family structure.
The children’s relationship with both parents will change, with one parent usually losing daily contact while the other takes on more of the care and is consequently likely to be under more stress. It is often the case that children at this stage need the 100% emotional support from both parents but at a time when one or both parents may be struggling to compose their emotions to manage themselves.
For some children, the actual separation isn’t the hardest part. Instead, they find the changes that divorce brings are the most difficult, such as moving to a new home, changing schools and living with a single parent who is under more pressure thanbefore. A reduction in financial means can also be apparent to children.
Helping children to adjust to the new situation
There is plenty that parents can do to help children through a divorce or separation.
Firstly, sharing the parenting peacefully and without acrimony is helpful. Even a small amount of tension can sometimes increase a child’s stress levels. Research supports that the act of separating itself is not what harms a child long term it is how the parents deal with is themselves. If the parents are ok it tends to follow that the children will be also.
Asking children to choose between parents in any situation should be avoided, as well as asking them to pass messages on to the other parent. Putting children in the middle can risk depression and anxiety both short term and long term. Often one parents will leave the child to communicate with the other parents to make their own arrangements on the basis they don’t wish to see or hear from that other person. However if you speak with that child more often than not they don’t want to get involved in this way. They don’t want to be the messenger. They just want to be able to be equally happy with either parent without issue.
The relationship between parent and child should be warm and positive with low levels of conflict. A healthy parent-child relationship has been linked to better self-esteem in children and better academic performance following divorce.
Discipline should be firm and consistent, with consequences for unacceptable behaviour. This has been shown to reduce delinquency and improve academic performance.
Working with your child to teach them how to cope with difficulties can be a huge help, as can driving home the message that although going through divorce is difficult, they are strong enough to handle it.
What to do if you or your children is struggling
If you or your child are struggling, professional assistance can be hugely helpful in teaching you both how to deal with the new situation. The Charity Voices in the middle is an online digital support service specifically aimed at secondary school children who are going through a parental separation and experiencing conflict arising out of this. It provides lots of video support material from other children who have also gone through this and to help normalise and explain some of the feelings they may have.
There is also the option of Child inclusive mediation, mediation can help families to improve relations and put some solid foundations in place to build on toward more positive co parenting relationship whilst allowing the child’s voice to be heard and taken into consideration when deciding what future arrangements may take place or even how the parents themselves ought to behave. This can also give a child the opportunity to express their wishes and feelings.
Alternatively, if you are reading this and haven’t separated or recently separated and are on amicable times check out the parents promise and sign up to a commitment to keep your children and their well being the primary focus at all times during your separation process and your co parenting future.
Listen to the Voice of the Child of Divorce
If you would like to speak to one of our expert family lawyer Mediators ring us on 07843265818 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively you can arrange an appointment to speak with one of our team here
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