Parental divorce can be devastating to children. According to Nationwide Children’s Hospital, divorce affects more than a million children in the United States every year.
When parents separate, there are many stressful changes that happen very quickly in the lives of the children involved. There are many things that parents can do to protect their children from emotional harm when divorce occurs.
Nationwide Children’s Hospital points out that preparing for a divorce is very important. Children should be told about the divorce and specifics as soon as the parents have the details worked out. Both parents should talk calmly to the children together, if possible.
Parents should be honest with the children and explain how their new lives will work such as living arrangements and when they will see each parent. Most importantly, parents should explain that the divorce is not the child’s fault and they are still loved by both parents.
Negativity and blame should be left out of conversations with the children. Putting children in the middle of a disagreement is damaging to their emotional health.
During a divorce, the children’s needs should come first. Parents should ensure that anger and fighting do not overshadow the needs of their children. In addition, Nationwide Children’s suggests that many children may need more positive attention and time from each parent. Children should not be made to feel disloyal or guilty for spending time with the other parent. To protect the emotional health of the children involved, relationships with both parents should be respected.
Every child is unique and may react differently as their parents are going through a divorce. Nationwide Children’s points out some common ways children of specific age groups may react to their parents’ divorce:
Children under 3 years:
• Fearful of others, “clingy” behavior
• Temper tantrums
• Problems with sleeping, eating and toilet training.
• Moodiness (sadness, anger)
• Temper tantrums or fighting
• Lower school performance
• Worry about loyalty to both parents
• Strong wish for parents to get back together.
• Depression, withdrawal, anger
• Engaging in risky behaviors (involved in sex or drugs)
• Worries about finances
• Trouble focusing in school.
Despite the negative emotions caused by divorce, it is important for parents to avoid arguing or speaking negatively about the other parent in front of the children involved. Children should also be assured that both parents love them. Keeping a strong relationship with both parents can help children cope much better with the divorce.
Nationwide Children’s states that oftentimes, parents can feel guilty about putting children through a divorce and this can cause the parents to allow the children to get away with certain behavior issues. It is important for both parents to maintain rules and structure within their new family routine as best as they can.
Every divorce happens for different reasons and some of the previous suggestions may not apply to all situations. Nationwide Children’s suggests that when domestic violence or child abuse has occurred, the children may still care for the abusive parent.
It is recommended that these children receive professional support to help cope with these situations through family counseling services. Contact your child’s pediatrician or family doctor for a recommendation on counseling services if you feel your child needs emotional support for any reason.
Brittney Tschudy, BSH, RN, TTS Hocking County Health Department, writes a weekly column published in The Logan Daily News.