When parents divorce, children are often left struggling with how to handle their changing family dynamics. For many children, divorce is one of the most difficult things that they have ever had to handle.
They may feel confused, angry and even guilty regarding their parents separation. Due to their lack of experience with handling major changes, many children lack the coping skills to deal with the emotions caused by a divorce. For this reason, anyone who works or cares for children will want to understand a few simple tips for helping children to cope with divorce.
Age-Related Responses to Divorce
Children feel the effects of divorce as young as infancy. Young babies will often pick up on the tension in the home and respond by becoming increasingly whiny and clingy. Adult caregivers may notice that they have changes in their normal schedules. Toddlers also respond to divorce non-verbally by becoming easily frustrated or by having trouble falling asleep. Preschoolers may have trouble expressing their feelings. They may act out with negative behaviors, have nightmares or cling to their parent when they are leaving.
School-age children often worry about the changes that will occur in their life following divorce. They may blame one parent for the divorce. They may also experience physical symptoms as a result of their anxiety such as headaches and stomach pain. Due to the wide range of responses that a child may have, it is important for adults to understand some easy ways to help children of all ages to handle a divorce.
How to Help Children Cope
1. Be available to listen-Many times, children express their emotions in ways that can easily be missed if a person does not take the time to listen. Therefore, it is important for adult caregivers to take the time to listen to a child the moment that they begin to talk about the divorce. Additionally, caregivers and educators can be alert for non-verbal cues that a child may use to express their emotions. This way, they can help to redirect their feelings so that they can be expressed in a positive manner.
2. Be consistent-When a child is experiencing a divorce, they may feel insecure by all the changes that are occurring. For this reason, it is important to try to keep things as consistent as possible. Educators and caregivers can do this by maintaining a regular schedule of activities that they child can rely on.
3. Keep children busy-Children often work through negative emotions through play and other activities. Therefore, letting children paint, participate in sports or create a project are all positive ways to help a child become involved in something that interests them.
4. Involve both parents-Many times, a child will have to split their time between parents according to a specific schedule. This can make it challenging for parents to stay on top of important activities. This is especially true for a parent who no longer lives in the home. Adult caregivers and relatives can help a child to know that they are still connected to both parents by making sure that they are both up-to-date on new information.
5. Stay positive-No matter what has occurred in their family, children will still have a strong connection to their parents. Therefore, adults who surround them with positive words will help them to continue to build a healthy relationship with both of their parents.
Helping children cope with divorce is a situation that many adults will come across when caring for children. During a divorce, children will rely upon their adult caregivers to give them cues for how to handle a divorce. For this reason, being available to a child, reinforcing positive behavior and keeping a consistent routine are all ways that an adult can show their support to a child during this challenging time.
This is a guest post. Ginny Grant is a Master’s level Family Therapist and an adult child of divorce. She contributes regularly to Online Child Psychology Degree Guide.