Divorce is never easy. It can get messy when you finally decide you want to separate from someone you’ve been connected to like that. This gets even harder when children are involved. Regardless of age, divorce has a huge impact on the children involved, and it’s often overlooked. Because of this, we wanted to provide some information about what your children may be going through in this very hectic time. All kids are different, of course, so while your child may not be showing signs exactly like this, it’s a good idea to be aware of how they react to this situation.
It can be incredibly difficult to deliver the news of a separation or divorce to your children. No matter the age, they will have a distinct reaction, even when it seems like they don’t. It’s important that you make it clear, this is something between the parents, and the kids are not to blame. Even though you do this, many kids will still have these feelings of guilt, frustration, and confusion connected to the divorce. Some will believe it actually is their fault and you’re just trying to make them feel better about it. Remember, children are still developing their emotional cores, their empathy, and their understanding of relationships at this point. Honesty and sincerity go really far when telling the kids about a divorce.
Depending on how old your children are, they will often react differently. An older sibling will often take a very adult approach to coping with the situation, only wanting the safety of their younger brother or sister. However, this is where you’ll see the actions of what they believe an adult or parent to be. Pay attention to this. Are they lashing out more often? Or are they pouring so much of themselves into being a guardian, they lose their adolescence? This crops up often when the parents seem all consumed by their work and the divorce, leaving little time to spend with the kids. When this absence is seen, the older sibling will often feel a sense of responsibility to fill that role. Be sure to remind them it’s still ok to be a kid and do kid things. Growing up too quickly happens to a lot of children of divorce.
A younger child may have trouble understanding what’s going on with a divorce. This will lead to a lot of questions, like “Where’s dad/mom?” You’ll see a lot more of the clear signs of their fear and frustration come to the surface. We know this is a trying time for the parents, but keeping tabs on what those fears are can help you make sure the adjustment period goes smoothly for everyone. Kids can come out of situations like this stronger, more able to handle stress. Many of them become much more flexible, tolerant adults. When being honest with children about the divorce, don’t let it devolve into name calling or blaming of the other parent. Because of their age and the point of development the child may be in, they’re learning a lot of lessons about relationships and how they treat others from this.
While we know divorce proceedings are often time-consuming and emotionally draining for the parents, it’s important to check in with the kids to make sure they’re handling it well. Addressing concerns, understanding frustrations, and just taking the time to hear what they’re feeling will help them process this massive change in their life. Legitimizing their feelings helps them find their voice and forms healthy coping mechanisms. Remember, the majority of their life to this point has shown them one family unit and now they’re seeing that change. Huge life changes at an early age have an even greater impact because they have less life experience to compare it to.
It’s also very important to set a good example throughout the separation. Keep yourself healthy, encourage honest discussion, and avoid name calling when talking about the other parent. Whenever possible, when abuse is not a factor in the divorce, it’s incredibly important to keep both parents involved in the child’s life. While it’s not the same family unit they had been familiar with, this allows a sense of normalcy to still be in place, even when everything is changing around it.
Therapy can be very helpful for children going through a divorce as well. Often, children will hold back on their real feelings out of fear of hurting their parents. Having a trained professional that is unconnected to the family gives the kids an appropriate place to vent and explore the emotions they’re feeling, without the fear of discipline or hurt feelings preventing it. This will also put them on the path to emotional health, an often overlooked piece of childhood development.
It’s also important to maintain healthy boundaries with your kids. Making them into friends rather than children may give you some comfort, but it will put the kids into a situation they are not old enough to handle. While honesty is important, full disclosure will create more issues and can breed resentment toward the other parent. Doing your emotional venting with a friend or your own, separate therapist will help you maintain your emotional health, as well as setting a good example for the children. Kids are more observant than you’d think, and everything they see can either be a lesson learned or a lesson that needs to be unlearned years down the line.
Avoid fighting in front of the kids. While an argument here and there is absolutely normal in any family, overwhelming hostility and unresolved conflict place a very emotional burden on children. When a child grows up seeing consistent anger and hostility from their parents, it’s far more likely they will carry those traits into their adulthood. We know it’s hard to do, but handling things civilly will not only make this process easier for both parents, it will ensure the kids learn the proper ways to deal with conflict regardless of the situation or relationship involved.
This will be a subject we’ll revisit in the future, as it’s a constantly evolving topic. We hope this helps you move forward through your divorce or separation. Kids can get lost in the shuffle when a divorce is in progress, so it’s important to make sure they’re learning the right lessons to set them up for success in their future. If you are looking for legal counsel to assist you through your divorce, give us a call today. We here at the Law Office of Tobie Kuykendall are here to help when you need someone to be at your side.