40-50% of married couples in the US get divorced. Getting divorced or legal separation is easy as calling your lawyer and signing a piece of paper. But who gets affected the most? It’s the children. A divorce can be messy with the financial settlement and the transition, but the greatest impact of this conflict is the emotional and mental of a child.
A child may experience shock, distress, sadness, anger, frustration, and worry when parents get divorced. These are huge feelings for children that they may find overwhelming. Not all kids with parents getting separated experience emotional turmoil because it depends on the situation, the children’s age, and other factors.
For parents who are concerned about how to address this situation, here’s what you should remember:
- Do not fight; avoid conflicts and heated discussions in front of your children.
- If you’re having marriage problems, do not let your kids witness this.
- Do not let the child feel that he/she needs to take sides.
- As much as possible, make minimal changes to the daily routine of the child.
- Both parents and family members should be involved in the child’s life most of the time.
- Try to co-parent the healthy way for the sake of the kids.
- All negative emotions and conflict should not be discussed in front of the child; keep it private with a counselor.
- The priority is helping your child deal with the situation in a healthy way.
How Legal Separation And Divorce Affect A Child’s Mental Well-Being
Some children recover faster after a divorce, while some may have lasting damaging impacts on their mental wellness. The recovery process depends on the child’s age, how the parents separated, the support they receive from family members and their level of understanding of the divorce process. How can an ending marriage affect the mental well-being of the child and other aspects of their life? Here’s what you should know.
Kids Experience Overwhelming Emotions
Research shows that after the first year the marriage has ended; that is the most challenging time for the kids. The child may feel overwhelming emotions like disbelief, anger, anxiety, stress, and even depression. With the big changes coming their way, like living arrangements, changes in their activity, or not having both parents around all the time, the transition is hard to deal with.
They May Express Their Emotions In An Unhealthy Way
Children act and think differently than adults. They may express their emotions in an unhealthy way, and it’s hard to differentiate it from a simple tantrum or changes brought about their puberty. Children or teens may express their emotions like:
Teenagers: Teens may blame one or both parents for the divorce and start to have resentments. Teens may act rebellious, engaging in risky behaviors like drinking or smoking, cut classes or spend more time with their friends than at home.
Grade School Children: Grade school kids may think that it is their fault that the marriage has ended. They may blame themselves for the situation and start to appear quiet all the time.
Younger Children or Preschoolers: Younger children try to understand why one parent is not at home. They may worry that their parents do not love them anymore.
Mental Health Problems Children May Experience
Children that witness their parents going through a messy divorce is at risk of developing mental health problems. Regardless of the child’s gender, culture, and age, studies suggest that children may experience a mental health decline like depression, anxiety, and adjustment disorder. Other children suffer from these mental health problems and recover for months, while others find it hard to resolve the issues.
Poor Academic Performance
Children whose parents are divorcing may begin to have poor academic performance and lower educational aspirations. Not all children will experience this, but a child’s emotional disturbance may greatly affect their performance at school.
Most especially if the divorce was recent, a child might be preoccupied with thoughts about family problems. Instead of studying for a big test, other children cry and feel sad to have the determination to study for a test.
How To Tell Your Kids You’re Getting Divorced
It’s hard for children to handle this overwhelming feeling on their own. That is why it is the responsibility of the parents to recognize these feelings. How can you break the news to your child? What are the right words to say? And where do you go from here? Just remember always to give guidance to your child and help them find emotional stability.
How do you tell your child about this? You can sit down as a family, with your partner, and have a calm conversation. You can say like, “Honey, you know we love you so much. Mommy and daddy are getting divorced. This must be upsetting for you, but remember that we are here for you always.”
Your approach depends on your children’s age. For younger kids, talk to them in a simple manner they can understand. For teenagers, you can be more straightforward about divorce. Children will react differently, and parents must be prepared for how they react.
Other kids may feel angry, sad, may have changes in their sleeping patterns, don’t like to eat, others may act out, or just want to hang out with their friends rather than at home. Aim for a conflict-free conversation with your child, but prepared to answer questions your kids may have after the divorce. Questions like:
- Why are you having a divorce?
- Who will I live with? Mommy or daddy?
- Why are you getting divorced? Is it my fault?
- Do we need to move house?
- Do I need to transfer school?
- Do I still get to see my friends?
- Who’s taking me to my baseball game?
- How do we spend Christmas?
- Will both mommy and daddy be on my birthday?
- Will my brother or sister live in a different house?
Brace yourself with all these questions right after the separation and be honest with the answers. If you’re not quite sure what to answer, just tell them, “Mommy and daddy are still talking things through”. Just remember that when you and your ex-partner decide on something, remember to make little changes slowly and make them feel like everything is still “normal”. Making big changes for a short period can be shocking to a kid; you need to avoid this.
How Can I Help My Child Cope With Separation and Divorce?
Going through a divorce is a huge cause of stress because it is considered a big life change. It’s not going to be easy, especially when kids are involved. Two separate homes are better than one unhappy home. Sometimes, it’s more heartbreaking for kids to witness firsthand the toxic relationships at home.
How do parents help their children get through a divorce?
Acknowledge their feelings. Make your kids feel that their feelings are important. Sit down with your kids, listen to what they have to say, encourage them to speak their minds, try your best to understand their feelings. Acknowledge what your child feels, even how heartbreaking it sounds. Say like, “I know that you feel sad about these changes, tell me what you feel”. Some kids may feel happy, even though the family dynamics are different. Encourage them that this is okay too. If they have questions about the divorce, don’t avoid the topic; talk openly with your child.
Get them preoccupied:
- Ask your kids what would make them feel better. If your child says a walk in the park or having their friends over will make them happy, then do it.
- Get your kids preoccupied with activities so they avoid sulking.
- Try movie nights, outings with the family, outdoor activities, or let them try another hobby.
- If it makes them happy to write a card to daddy, call mommy, then do it. As much as possible, make them feel that things are still normal.
Seek professional help for your children: This is a tough time to handle, so if you need mental health professionals to step in, do it. Kids need to receive professional help and support to make them feel better. Therapy or counseling is advised at this point. As much as you must support them, it’s detrimental to have professional support as well.
How Can Divorce Therapy Benefit My Child?
Children need therapy after divorce to express their feelings, have someone to talk to, and have a healthy mental and emotional well-being. These are big feelings for a child, and it may be hard for them to understand what’s going on and how to move forward.
A therapist can help pinpoint any behavioral changes with your child. Signs like sadness, depression, moodiness, and school problems. It’s always important for a parent to keep track of how their child is coping with the divorce, and a therapist can help you with that.
Where To Find A Therapist For My Child?
With the rising COVID-19 cases, we are all advised to stay at home. Thankfully, Kentucky Counseling Center (KCC) offers online counseling and therapy. KCC has many licensed professionals specializing in Family and Child Counseling. Using your laptop or mobile phone, you can book a one-on-one session for the kids and have the counseling at home. Learn more about the Telehealth Care Services of Kentucky Counseling Center, click here.