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How to effectively support your child through their parents’ divorce

Introduction

The divorce and separation process is often a time of mixed emotions.

Of course, this often has a negative impact on you, your children, your ex-partner, extended family and friends.

Feelings of guilt, anger, self-worth, sadness, confusion and fear are just a few emotions that a person may experience – often several at the same time.

For example, the day may start with a feeling of loss while organising the kids and getting them off to school. A rush of negative emotion before you’ve even started your working day!

These feelings can quickly turn to anger, as you say to yourself ‘this was not how it was meant to be!’

It’s quite normal to have these thoughts and feelings. By recognising these emotions at an early stage, you get a chance to work through the negative impact caused by these feelings.

The first step to working on your own emotional well-being is an acceptance of the position you find yourself in.

This does not mean that you are happy about separating or getting a divorce, or even that you wanted to. You could be the person who initiated the proceeding but you may still go through many similar emotions.

Taking time out to work through these feelings will prevent longer term internal feelings of anger, hopelessness etc…and less chance of impacting on the most important people in your lives: your children.

How divorce impacts your child

Feelings of abandonment 

Divorce and separation can be a very difficult and emotional time for children. 

They may feel abandoned by their parents if they feel like they are not being listened to or if they are not being included in the decisions being made about their lives.

The feelings of abandonment children feel during their parents’ divorce or separation can be very intense. 

They may feel isolated, confused, and insecure.

They may also feel like they have lost their support system and that their world has been turned upside down.

Children may also have difficulty trusting people in the future and may have trouble forming attachments.

Loss of contact with one parent 

There are many reasons why children may lose contact with one parent during their parents’ divorce or separation. 

One reason may be that the child lives with the other parent and the custodial parent decides not to allow the child to see the other parent. 

Another reason may be that the child is placed in the care of a relative or friend of the family and the other parent is not able to see the child. 

One of the parents may have to move locations for housing and or work purposes.

The child may feel angry and resentful towards the parent who is not present in their life. 

This will also feed into the previous feelings of abandonment and make the effects even worse.

Decreased academic achievement 

Divorce and separation could well impact on a child’s performance in school. 

They may have trouble concentrating, may start to get lower grades, may become withdrawn and isolate themselves from friends and activities they used to enjoy, or may act out in disruptive or aggressive ways.

They may feel overwhelmed by the changes in their family life and feel like they are not able to cope. 

Another reason is that they may feel like they are being pulled in different directions by their parents and may not be able to focus on their schoolwork. 

Additionally, children may be exposed to more conflict at home if their parents are arguing about the divorce, and this can lead to stress and anxiety that can interfere with school performance. 

Finally, some children may simply be grieving the loss of their family as they knew it and may not be able to focus on anything else.

Increased behavioural problems

Some children may become more angry and even aggressive or display other emotional behaviours during their parents’ divorce or separation.

This may be because they feel like they are caught in the middle of the situation and do not know how to express their feelings. 

They may also feel like they must choose sides between their parents and may become angry/aggressive to protect themselves.

If a child becomes angry or aggressive during their parents’ divorce, it is most likely because it is affecting them emotionally, which is understandable but will require support from parents and where necessary, other agencies. 

They may have difficulty trusting people and may have trouble forming relationships in the future. 

It may cause the parents to feel guilty, frustrated, or helpless. 

It may also make it more difficult for them to co-parent effectively.

Feelings of confusion and insecurity 

During their parents’ divorce/sepration, children may feel confused because they are not sure why their parents are getting a divorce, what will happen to them, and how their lives will change.

Parents spend lots of time focusing on the ins and outs of their separation. Explaining things to the young person may not be priority, but it should not be forgotten about. 

If the child is confused, this can heighten all the other effects discussed previously.

Tips to support your child during the divorce

Avoid arguing in front of their children 

It is ultimately your responsibility to put your children’s’ needs first. This is still the case during a divorce, and it’s important not to forget that.

Regardless of the reason, arguing in front of the kids is never the way.

Avoiding this will protect the children from experiencing the negative effects of witnessing parental conflict. 

It also helps model healthy conflict resolution for the children and avoid further damaging the children’s relationship with either parent.

Be civil with each other 

Civility will not only help you both avoid further emotional pain. It will help set a good example for your children.

Also, you can remove a lot of the stress and pain of co-parenting just by remaining civil.

The more you can avoid conflict, the more likely you are to remain comfortable with one another. 

Although it may not be what YOU want, remaining friends, or at the very least polite, is always the best option for your child.

Work together to make decisions about your children 

Conflict is inevitable at times but the way you manage conflict is crucial for the children’s wellbeing. You are not likely to agree on some issues regarding your divorce or separation or even how you parent your children but you should remain courteous and respectful of each other’s opinions, even when you don’t agree and arguing in front of the children should never take place. 

Involving each other in decision making processes will have a great benefit for your child.

This can be done in several ways. You might take turn making decisions, let your child make decisions, or meet in the middle when you might not necessarily want the same thing.

If you are communicating openly and honestly, these methods will be much easier. It’s important to be respectful of each other’s feelings and needs.

Conflict support and mediation is a taboo subject for some, but there is nothing wrong with reaching out to others for help if you can’t resolve between yourselves.

Use online support resources

Online support resources can help by providing information about the divorce process, offering tips for coping with the emotional stress of divorce, and connecting people with others who are going through a divorce.

In fact, you’re looking at online support right now!

There are plenty of articles on this blog and out there on the world wide web which can help you in any scenario you face. 

You can also take our extensive and interactive divorce and separation support course, which covers all bases to ensure the best outcome for your child.

This course was developed with parents of young people in mind. It offers support to guide you through all the scenarios discussed in this article, and fantastic tools to ensure your ability to navigate through this difficult time successfully. 

Websites like Mumsnet also offer forums where you can speak to other people in a similar situation, share tips, or simply have someone to listen to your concerns.

Conclusion

The above information is not an exhaustive list of what can happen during the divorce and separation process but should be used as guidance and a support system for you to refer to. Some of the issues covered may not be applicable in your circumstances. 

The very nature of divorce and separation often creates conflict. This can bring out poor behaviour in couples who seek revenge and retribution based on negative emotions such as anger and hurt.

Regardless of who you may blame for the breakdown in your marriage, once the divorce process is underway you MUST strive to behave in an appropriate manner for your own and your children’s wellbeing.

The more bitter the divorce or separation the more damage is done to you, your partner, the children, extended family and friends.

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