The most talked about statistic in the U.S today is divorce. Although the divorce rate is high being divorced does not mean you have failed. You found a problem in your relationship and are actively bettering the family by parting from a toxic relationship. We want to believe our partners will remain committed, but people do change. Sometimes for the better.
If you are a child of divorce or have children in the divorce this post is for you. Partners are so emotionally drained from the divorce that sometimes we forget our child’s best interest. Below are a few necessary components a child needs at his/her stage of life while going through the split.
Infants and Toddlers
At this age children have very little comprehension of what is happening within the family. Needless to say, this does not mean the child’s feelings should be disregarded. Children are like sponges (more so at this age). A study by NYU suggests that exposure to spousal arguments can lead to problems in the child’s self-regulation (NYU, 2014). We should also consider that parents need to be actively involved in caring for the child. Children need both parents to be positively involved in their lives at this stage. Because divorce is an extremely emotional stressor, counseling may be needed during the process.
Pre-school children are able to recognize that a parent is no longer living with them. They may take this information and internalize it into fear of abandonment. They have a higher risk of blaming them self for the split of the parents. What parents can do is reassure the child that they are not to blame. Also, consider implementing fun weekly activities between parent and child. This approach sets a stable foundation in the relationship. The child’s fear of abandonment may lessen. An example of this would be to always have a family movie night on Friday. Make this a priority and the children will feel important and loved through the difficult divorce.
At this age, children seek love and attention. They are being gradually exposed to society through interaction at school. Therefore, the home needs to be a place of warmth. At school, the child is exposed to a new environment and it can be a lot to handle. They need a strong home and parent to run to. A child that mainly sees negativity from one or both parents is at risk for becoming aggressive and impulsive. They are not getting the love they need, so they act out in tantrums. Parents may be too occupied with the divorce to notice. These risk factors limit the child’s ability to form healthy relationships at home and in school.
Teenagers are very complex and may have the hardest time adjusting to the divorce. The body is changing and so is the child’s mindset. Because teenagers are struggling with
their own problems it’s even more difficult to process the divorce. Adolescents are at an even higher risk for impulsive behavior. To minimize these risks parents should try to lessen the burden of family dysfunction on adolescents. We must not mistake our children for adults we need to be aware that they ARE NOT adults. They can comprehend the divorce very well, but they are still emotionally immature. Again, creating a supportive foundation for the children will help them succeed in the long-run.
This age group is not talked about as much as others. Adults witnessing their parents split are at risk for problems in their ability to function. They may give up on important goals for their career and family life. This can also bring serious problems in the adult’s intimate relationships. As a parent, communicate with your child to lessen their anxiety. By giving them hope and positive advice the adult can regain guidance. Note that I say “positive advice”. We have enough negativity in the world; therefore, we should pass down productive take-aways from our experiences being married.
How To Regain Stability
Remember there are components in a child’s life that are extremely important. In all ages these factors must be continuously observed and worked on to regain stability:
- A functional home – Try to recreate stability in the household. Practice weekly activities to strengthen the parent-child relationship.
- Positive Parenting – Just because you are dealing with a lot doesn’t mean your child should. Try to reinforce positive behavior in the household by practicing it yourself.
- Open Productive Communication – Being open with your child is important, but only expose information that’s going to help them NOT hurt them. Avoid complaining or blaming the other parent for the family dysfunction. We must move past the hurt and accept the situation for what it is. A healthy child will prosper in a home that stresses the importance of warmth and effective communication.
If you would like to know more about the effects of divorce on Children, I recommend reading this empirical study by Patrick F. Fagan et al. (2012)