The Effect of Divorce on Children
A divorce is a very emotional time for all parties involved.
Regardless of the reason for the split, both parties usually go through a wide array of emotions from happiness to uncontrollable rage. Often these feelings are more intense when children are involved.
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Trust Issue Concerns
One way parents cause damage to their children before, during, and after a divorce, is by trash talking the other parent.
The effects of divorce on children are hard to determine prior to filing, and often do not present themselves until later in life. However, controlling what you say about your child’s other parent is something completely within your control. Remember, if you are in the car talking on your cell phone, and your child is in the car with you, they can hear everything you say. You are entitled to express your emotions, and it is important to have a support system during your divorce that allows you to vent, but put your child’s needs first. Lessen the negative effects of divorce on children by controlling what you can.
Talking badly about, or verbally attacking, your ex in the presence of your child damages your child in several ways, including the creation of various trust issues.
How to Help a Child that is Feeling Stressed or Afraid
Remember, your child is scared, sad, and just as insecure about the future as you are.
First Look in the Mirror
When you are in the divorce process, in a failing marriage, or experiencing other hard times in life, you are likely very stressed. Parents often try to hide life’s harsh realities from their children, keeping the scary, ugly facts to themselves. Parents mistakenly believe by doing this their children are being well insulated from the turmoil.
When you are experiencing a stressful situation you will likely be more withdrawn or quick to anger, and react to small inconveniences with an iron fist. This type of reaction is the result of our evolutionary fight or flight response. Children pick up on all those cues, especially when parents who were once loving and engaging are suddenly withdrawn and withhold love and affection.
I recently read an article in which a woman discussed her realization of anger’s effect on her behavior and interaction with her daughter. Due to the author’s critical thinking, blaming herself for a failed marriage, she had become critical in her thinking of everyone, especially her own child. The author admitted she had become like a bully; nothing was good enough and minor mishaps were blown out of proportion. Her stress directly affected her child, who became withdrawn, fearful, and insecure.
What You Can Do
If you begin to feel angry when interacting with family, stop and take a breath. This is especially important to remember when interacting with your children. Remember, your child is scared, sad, and just as insecure about the future as you are. Take time for yourself each day, even just five minutes, to breathe. Put yourself in your child’s place, and try to see it from their point of view. Speak to them from a place of love and compassion not anger. You are not angry at your child and they did not cause your stress. They are an innocent party that needs to feel loved.
How to Talk to Your Child About Divorce
Nothing weighs more on divorcing parents’ minds than how the divorce will affect their children.
Think before you speak
Divorce and children are a complicated, emotional pair. Many parents stay with a spouse they are no longer committed to, love, or from whom they suffer physical and emotional abuse because they are so terrified of how divorce will affect their children.
There are various theories how best to break the news to your children about divorce, then there is the court’s opinion. The court does not want parents talking to their children about the court proceedings, or what mommy or daddy said in a hearing, or any of the drama occurring because of the divorce. The court believes, when it comes to divorce and children, it is in the best interest of the child to only speak in very general terms about divorce. The details of the divorce, or reasons behind the divorce should not involve them, in the court’s view.
Children do not need the details of your divorce, before, during or after. However, it is appropriate to talk to your children about the emotions you both feel. The emotions of sadness, loss, anger, resentment, and betrayal are difficult for adults (who have all the details) to process and understand. Imagine how difficult it must be for your child, who does not have your life experiences or knowledge to work on.
Children, especially very young children, need to feel secure in the present and future.
They need to know what to expect day to day, which is why psychologists and medical doctors recommend keeping children on a daily schedule to help reduce behavioral, sleep, and eating problems. Talk with your child about what is going to happen next, not about what happened to cause the divorce. Children should be reassured of your love and commitment to them. By talking with your children about how you feel, explaining it is acceptable and expected to feel that way, then they can feel okay to accept their own feelings and learn to cope with them.
A family court always has the best interest of the child as the top priority, and when it comes to divorce and children, you should too. Always put your child’s needs first and address any emotional stress early with love, understanding and commitment. Seek professional help if needed, or if you need assistance in learning how to communicate with your child.