Thursday, December 10, 2009

Children and Divorce

Children experience some of the same emotions connected with divorce that adults do, but in a different way. They experience them in a different way, however, since their conscious minds are not fully formed.
Children go through the feelings of the grief process as adults do. But they have emotions that adults do not.

Because they are children, they trust and depend on mom and dad to love and take care of them. Feeling and knowing they are part of a family makes children feel secure. When mom and dad separate, children experience feelings of abandonment, even though they may not say so. They think that if one parent left the household, the other one could also. They worry that there will be no money, no food, no place to live.

Children may feel responsible for the divorce. They may think that if they had only been "better", not argued, listened to mom and dad more, this would not have happened. Reassure them frequently that this had nothing to do with them. If either or both parents are in denial, still spending time together as a couple in an attempt to be "nice" to one another,.children will feel confused. They will not adjust to divorce in a healthy way, and will likely have trouble learning to trust as young adults.

There are specific indications that you can be alert to that will tell you how children are dealing with the grief process. These indications depend on the age of a child. These signs are listed below according to childrens ages and developmental stages.

Infants: Birth to 1 year
Infants can feel the tension of adult emotions in divorce situations. They respond to that tension by crying more frequently, having digestive disturbances, or not sleeping as well.

Toddlers: 1 1/2 to 3 Years
Children at this age can experience some of the same responses as infants. If they are going through potty training they may take longer to accomplish bowel and bladder control. If they have been recently potty trained, they may have more accidents. If they have been recently weaned from the bottle or binky, they will likely regress and want it again. Don't hesitate to give it to them. This is their "comfort" source.

Preschoolers 3-5
Preschoolers can have trouble sleeping and may have bad dreams. They may wake up during the night and want to sleep with mom or dad. If that should happen, allow them to do that on a temporary basis. Set a time limit that lets them know when they will go back to sleeping in their own bed. Children this age can be especially clingy when their parents have separated, moreso than usual. They may throw temper tantrums if that was not part of their behavior pattern before.

Elementary School Age 5-10
Children in this age bracket can adapt to divorce in a healhy way if parents are open and honest about the divorce. Parents who are still doing things together as a couple and as a family with their children can retard their childrens' adjustment to divorce. School age children may act out the anger stage of the grief process by dragging their feet with household responsibilites and taking care of their room. They may have problems in school, such as conflicts with classmates, inattentiveness in class or failure to turn in work on time. Inform your child's teacher about your divorce. He or she can be your eyes and ears away from home regarding children's adjustment to the grief process.

Pre-Teen and Teen Ages .
The developmental task of children this age is forming their own identity separate from mom and dad. This process may be retarded if parents are not honest and clear about the divorce. This age will spend more time in their room, and may show a lack of interest in favorite activities. A child who has been involved in sports for example, may not be as enthusiastic. Teen agers that are working may want to help mom or dad financially. One parent in my class had a teenage boy who offered to give her money whenever he visited on the weekends because he felt responsible that she had a lower standard of living since the divorce. The worst case scenario for teenagers is getting involved with the wrong crowd, or with alcohol or drugs.
This concludes my blog, "The Myth of The Friendly Divorce". I hope you have gotten some good ideas from this.
Hopefully, you and your former spouse can be objective with each other and avoid the pitfalls that can happen when a divorcing couple are still acting like a married couple. If your state does not offer divorce education, there is much information on the Internet and in libraries. An excellent source of information is anything written by Judith Wallerstein. She has done some good research that has been published in her books.