Helping your child cope during your divorce

If you and your partner are going through a divorce, it’s likely that one of the most significant concerns that you will be facing is how this will impact your child. Each year in the UK, thousands of children are affected by the divorce of their parents but, just because it may be a common experience, this does not make it any easier for the children involved.

You may be feeling concerned about how your divorce will be impacting on your child’s wellbeing, and it’s only normal that you might feel a little bit confused by their coping mechanisms.

For them, as it is for you, the divorce will mean a massive upheaval in their life as they know it, which will cause grief for the loss of their previous life, as well as stress and anxiety at the changes that they are now having to accommodate.

You should not make yourself feel guilty about this – your child will be ok and they will gradually show signs of emotional improvement. There are, also, plenty of things that you can do to help support them along the way, as they grieve and navigate this unanticipated change.

In this blog, I will be providing you with some advice for you to support your child’s emotional well-being during your divorce in the best way that you can. This will include some typical, normal (possibly including some pretty wicked temper tantrums!) responses that your child may be showing, as well as key things that you can do to help alleviate those feelings.

What to expect

Children, by their nature, will react to a situation in all kinds of different ways. This could involve anything from huge bursts of anger, right the way through to no visible reaction at all. These reactions can also switch, depending on the day or their current mood.

Ultimately, you and your partner know your child better than anyone, so trust yourself and your instincts. Keep an eye on their behaviour, and see whether you notice anything that seems different, or a regression to behaviours that they had when they were younger (for example, sucking their thumbs, or big blowout tantrums).

It’s natural that you might be left feeling a little concerned about this wide spectrum of emotions.

So, below, we’ve listed just a few of the most common different reactionary behaviours that you can expect (and, don’t worry, they’re all perfectly normal), and a brief explanation for your child’s thought pattern underpinning them.

  • Anger and resentment, irritability or protest – you might find that children are mimicking the conflict, and outletting their frustration with it, by experiencing bursts of anger that they take out on you and the other people around them. This could include generally bad behaviour, tantrums, throwing blame at you for the divorce, physically fighting (particularly if they are younger) and telling you they hate you in a spurt of anger. Or, if they’re older, this could show itself in uncharacteristically taking part in more dangerous, unruly behaviour.
  • Anxiety, denial or disbelief – this is all normal for them to experience as they attempt to navigate the situation. Gradually, they will come to terms with it as they understand their new routines and normality re-establishes itself.
  • Sadness, helplessness, grief or mild depression – again, it is normal that your child will be left feeling sad during this difficult time. Talk to your child, and try to help them find a healthy outlet for these emotions. We will discuss ways that you can do this in more detail later.

It might be hard for you to witness, but in reality, these emotions are all perfectly normal ways that children will get through the shock and upheaval caused by their parents getting divorced.

In the next section, we will take a look at some of the things that you can do to significantly ease this transition period for your child, helping them cope better with the situation that they are facing.

Things you can do

While it is perfectly normal for your child to be experiencing heightened emotions during this period (and it is important that you don’t dismiss any of these feelings) in order to help your child deal with the situation in the most healthy way possible, there are lots of things that you can do. The ideas that we’ve laid out below are just some of the ways that you can support your child during this period.

  • Speak to your child about the situation in an open and honest manner, creating a safe space where they feel that they can talk to you about how they are feeling. Let them know that it is normal to be feeling a bit rubbish, and that you understand. Then, give them an opportunity to open up to you and talk about how they’re feeling.
  • If your child is feeling angry – responding to this type of behaviour is all about balance. You can tell them that it is ok for them to feel angry, however, make sure that you inform them that there are unacceptable ways to handle how they are feeling. You can make this distinction clear for them by telling them what is not an acceptable thing to do. Don’t be afraid to tell them that they are repercussions if they behave badly as a result of their anger, too.
  • From there, you can work with your child to identify a handful of healthy ways that they can outlet their angry outbursts (this could involve them independently taking themselves away to their room to calm down, writing down their feelings in a private diary, or doing some exercise like running on the spot for 60 seconds).
  • If your child is feeling sad, it is important that you allow them to feel this way in full (without trying to dismiss, discount it, change the topic, cover it up or push it aside). Talk to them, and let them know that it is very normal and absolutely ok to feel sad about what is happening.
  • Equally, it’s important to not then resort to spoiling your child with presents, or expensive activities to distract them from feeling sad – this can only ever be a temporary surface-level form of help.
  • Be intuitive – you might not even have seen any significant reaction from your child yet, as it might take them a bit of time to process the situation. Let them know that this is also absolutely fine, and that you are always there to talk about it whenever they’re ready.
  • Consistency and stability is absolutely key – try to ensure that your child’s life is predictable, consistent and as full of a happy, healthy daily routine as possible. This stability provided by a structured network around them will help them feel calm and limit their anxiety.
  • Also make sure that your child has a clear, predictable and dependable routine when it comes to seeing and speaking to each parent (as well as their family and friends, too).
  • Make sure they know how loved they are by both their parents – lots of affection, hugs and just telling them that you love them are wonderful ways to help improve how they are feeling.
  • Speak to your child’s school and update them about what is happening – you can trust the school to keep an eye on your child and offer them extra support. They may be able to assist you by providing your child with counselling if they believe it to be necessary.
  • Take care of yourself, too – stay healthy (both physically and mentally) so that you are in the right frame of mind to support your child.

If your child reaches a certain emotional point, however, and gives you a sincere cause for concern, then you might require further help. Persistent or worsening sadness could be a form of depression. So if you find that these things aren’t helping the situation over time, then it might be wise to speak to your GP, and they can then refer your child to the Child and Mental Health Service (CAMHS).

Signs to look out for that may denote depression include a change in how they’re performing academically at school, struggling to concentrate, withdrawing from their loved ones, not enjoying their favourite activities any more, constantly feeling tired and repeatedly saying things like, for example, ‘I wish I was never born’.

It may take some time, but continue to provide your child with all of the support and love that they need, and they will soon work through these feelings; rest assured, you will see improvement in their behaviours over time.

Article Created By Josephine Walbank

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