Children Coping With Divorce
Divorce is always puzzling, difficult, and often devastating for children to cope with. If divorce has occurred, you can expect children to be affected. There are, however, things which you as a parent can do to lessen the impact of divorce on your children.
Approximately as many children in our society are affected by divorce as are not. Chidren are confused, puzzled, and often devastated when parents divorce. Even those children who show little outward signs of it are affected. Some parents know that divorce wreaks havoc on the lives of their little ones. Other parents may underestimate the effects of divorce on chldren or be unaware of what they can do to help their kids weather this storm called divorce.
There are two primary and universal effects of divorce on children: 1) All children think it is their fault that the divorce occurred, and 2) All children harbor a secret wish or fantasy that their parents will reunite. Do not think that your child is not having these two thoughts, for they are. These are the primary issues which parents need to address if they wish to help their kids deal with the emotional devastation they are feeling regarding the divorce of their parents.
Over and over, both parents, in a unified attempt to minister to the needs of the child, need to present to the child the loud and clear message: "This is NOT your fault." This needs to be said in as many creative ways as the parents can dream up. Repetition is necessary. Often a child, depending on age and personality, will deny that they think the divorce is his fault, bu rest assured that deep inside some secret place inside your child, perhaps unconsciously, there is a little voice whispering, "It must be something I did. There must be something wrong with me or Daddy wouldn't have left, Mommy would still be here." Tell your child that these feelings are normal and shared by every child whose parents divorce. Give your child permission to have his/her feelings. Tell them that you guess (Know) that they might be feeling this way and give them much reassurance that they are not to blame. Indeed, try to avoid assigning blame to any person. Explain to the child that this happened for reasons that have nothing to do with her. It is about Mommy and Daddy, not him.
Allow your child to share with you her fantasy or wish that the two of you will reunite. Indeed, tell your child that all kids feel this way and you are wondering if she, too, has dreams of her parents getting back together. Remember, do not pay attention to the words your child says if she says she does not harbor this fantasy. If you are alert, you will see certain signs that she does have this wish. Her behavior will let you know this. Again, allow her to have these feelings. It is all right to have the feelings, you tell her, but the reality is that this is not going to occur. Presenting reality while simultaneously allowing your child to have her feelings for as long as she needs to do so is a huge favor you can do for her.
Become clear in your mind that the child will be grieving. Become familiar or refresh yourself on the stages of grief and expect to see all of them. Your child will likely manifest, not necessarily in this order: denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, and eventually work her way through to acceptance. Do not put a time frame on how long it may take for any particular child to work through her grief re: the divorce. Do not expect that once she's been in the anger or any other stage of the grief process, she will be done with that and move on to another stage. This is not the way grief works. It is not a linear process, but rather one in which one jumps all around the stages, revisiting each one several times.
There are many books available on divorce which minister to the emotional needs of children of various ages. Spend some time in a bookstore, browsing, then choosing the ones that seem most suited to the needs of your own unique child. Read these books on divorce often to your child. See to it if possible that the other parent is doing the same thing. Give your child permission, verbally, to have any feelings about divorce that she needs to have. Tell your child that you are there for him and that you are sorry he has to go through such a hard time. Be sure your child knows that he can talk to you at any time about how he is feeling about the divorce. Keep those lines of communication wide open. Give your child extra physical affection if he will tolerate it. Suggest to your child that she use a variety of art media to express what she is feeling, e.g. write a poem or draw a picture about how divorce makes her feel. Have the child show her art work to you and make it the basis of a discussion about how she is feeling.
Remember that your child feels abandoned and responsible for that abandonment. She feels like Daddy left me; he feels that he was the one who should have gotten better grades or kept a tidier room and then Mommy would still be there. Allow your child emotional space and time to process his feelings and to grieve this huge loss.
No matter what the outward behavior of a child is, a parent who has divorced needs to remember that this child feels responsible for the divorce and is in her heart-of-hearts wishing for and fantasizing about a reconciliation of her parents.
This is a huge task for the child: to process an event over which she had no control, but for which she feels responsible. Incorporating some of the above ideas should help lessen the impact somewhat and aid your child in the arduous work of processing a divorce. As you experience how difficult it is for you as an adult to process the divorce, perhaps you will remember to give those little people in your life more time, more loving touch, more love, and a consistent message, spoken in many ways, "the divorce was NOT your fault." Children can weather the storms of divorce, but it is up to the parents to provide an environment which will aid them in doing so.