When parents do split, very few children are relieved to see a parent go. Children
instinctively know that their world has changed and most likely not for the better.
Their instincts are right the majority of the time. Only one child in six has
spent time with their non-custodial parent in the last week and more than half
of children in divorce haven’t seen that parent in over a year.
The stress of having their world so abruptly disturbed impacts children with
effects lasting far into adulthood. These effects can impact generations. The
most disturbing effects of divorce on children including higher rates of drug
use, poor school performance, earlier sexual activity, and increased episodes
of criminal activity can all be avoided by tackling the number one ill effect
of divorce – children of divorce are more often victims of abuse and neglect.
Fixing the Hurt
From infancy, you’ve done everything in your power to fix what hurts.
In a divorce, your own hurt is profound, but when children are involved, your
emotions must play second fiddle to theirs. No matter how much stress, despair
and anxiety you’re experiencing let the emotions remain your own. As far
as your children are concerned, you must work with your spouse as much as possible
to keep life “normal.”
Stress in children is a direct result of change. Separation, divorce, and custody
situations are a huge change for a child used to having both mom and dad at
home. The stress will exhibit itself in many ways and it is the job of both
parents to not only relieve the stress as much as possible, but to channel emotions
through constructive outlets.
Reducing Stress in Children
In a divorce you can’t eliminate stress, but you can work to minimize
it and help your child work through it. The stressful reactions children exhibit
in divorce situations can last for years, often occurring in episodes which
pop up throughout childhood and into adulthood, especially around milestones
To reduce stress in children, you must first be aware of how your child experiences
it. Infants and toddlers show stress through tears, tantrums and aggression.
Older children and teens often have the same reactions, but might also grow
excessively sullen, moody or depressed.
Teens especially are more likely to engage in severe risk-taking behavior (hence
the drugs, crime and sexual activity.) Other children react by suppressing the
emotions and acting as though nothing is wrong. These same children often suffer
far worse by holding in pain as it festers and has a tendency to explode dramatically
or leak out at unexpected moments.
In most cases, signs of stress are almost involuntary and help to relieve some
of the overwhelming emotions. For example having a good cry can leave you feeling
better. The reactions are also a means of asking for attention and help. Whether
or not you feel you have time, patience or energy for these episodes, you must
make your child’s well being your number one priority.
No child processes the emotions from divorce in the same way, so there is no
set method you can use to help relieve the negative emotions. You will most
likely find a combination of strategies and methods are most effective, but
you’ll have to try many things to find what works.
Keep it Simple
Keep divorce proceedings as simple and low key as possible
it yourself divorce might remove much of
the emotional onslaughts that court battles and lawyers
often bring. . For example, step by step guides and
all the divorce documents you will ever need for any
state, including Virginia,
are all available online and readily available for download.
These divorce papers may cut down substantially on the
costs of your divorce as well as allowing the divorce
to be resolved quickly and as amicably as possible.
If you find it’s hard to face your spouse for a civil discussion, seek
a mediator to resolve disputes about child custody and property settlement outside
of your child’s hearing. Give older children a choice about custody arrangements
within reason and without putting additional pressure on the child. Remember
that keeping your temper and withstanding the temptation for vengeance or name-calling
is helping your child, even if it is giving you a bit of daily indigestion.
If possible, come together with your spouse for important events and holidays.
Perhaps have your ex come over for dinner every Friday night or meet up at a
favorite restaurant after church on Sunday. It might be tough on the adults,
especially with fresh wounds still very sensitive, but trying to get along as
often as possible is a huge asset to the child. Your family might not be intact,
but your child knows and understands he has two parents who love him and support
One of the primary signs of stress, especially in boys, is physical aggression.
When a child gets angry, he often reacts by hitting, kicking, biting or flailing.
Help your child to channel and burn off that aggression by enrolling him in
an athletic activity. Kickboxing, karate, water polo, football, and soccer are
all excellent sports that rely upon controlled aggression and power. Going to
a class or gym a few nights a week will help to purge much of the stress, especially
if both parents show up to watch the practice – even if you have to sit
on opposite sides of the bleachers.
Distracting your child or refocusing him can work wonders. When left to stew
about hurt and anger, the feelings often get more developed. An activity that
involves concentration and intricate movements such as musical instruments,
building models and wood or metal working will provide a welcome relief to an
endless symphony of mental onslaught.
Talk It Out
It is likely your child won’t want to talk about his emotions, but you
should try. Encourage your child to talk to you, his friends, his father, his
girlfriend or arrange a private or group therapy session to open lines of conversation.
Discussing emotions helps to process them. This is true in young children as
Children without fully developed vocabulary will need your help resolving their
emotions. Let children of all ages know that it’s okay to feel “yucky”
and mad. Let them know that you feel yucky on the inside, too, but remind them
that no matter how nasty the family feels and how much things change, everyone
still loves him.
It’s easy to fall into the confines of our own emotions and hectic lives
and fail to closely monitor not only our child’s emotions, but their activities
as well. As a divorced parent, you are likely to be busier than you’d
care to be with tasks outside of childrearing, but find ways to stay in touch
with your child and know every detail of their day. Sit down together to work
on homework and communicate with your child, his teachers and his father to
be sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to his health and well-being.
Be a Parent
Too often divorce makes one parent the bad guy and the other the “fun
one.” While primary custody arrangements make this almost inevitable,
avoid becoming a friend rather than a parent. Your child is not an adult and
should not be privy to adult conversations or decisions. You can naturally include
your child in decisions, but remain a loving and devoted parent – not
his new best friend.
This shift in parental relationship can cause more
stress for your child. Children (whether they know it
or not) crave routine and expectations. Knowing what
to expect and who they can rely on during a time of
turmoil is one of the best gifts you can give your child.
cost of a divorce, both financially and
emotionally, do your best to be a solid presence in
your child’s life – ready to take on anything
or simply reaffirm the notion that life will go on and
there is no doubt that you are there to help him in
any way you can.