Every child is different, and with all families, the dynamics and situations will be different. It is, therefore, impossible to say how a child will be affected by divorce; however, the following is a guideline of how children are likely to react. How a child reacts to divorce will largely depend on the age of the child, how much they understand, the support they receive from friends and family, and how their parents have separated.
Children can have mixed feelings about a divorce
After a divorce, a child may feel a sense of loss, not only from one of the parents, or home if they move but also their whole way of life as they knew it. The child may also develop separation anxiety and feel scared of being left alone, or feel rejected and insecure. Guilt is another common emotion experienced by children who fear they may have caused the situation. Conversely, a child may feel angry with one or both parents for the divorce. Lastly, it is common that children feel torn between both parents. The period after a divorce is somewhat of an emotional rollercoaster for children, however, eventually children do adjust to the change. Even if the parental relationship had been an abusive or unpleasant one, many children have mixed feelings about their parents separating, and hold onto the desire that their parents will remarry each other.
Many parents worry that after they have separated, they will experience emotional or behavioural problems with their children. These problems are most common in children who are exposed to their parents fighting, which makes them feel insecure and thus gives rise to other issues. For example, insecurity can cause children to start behaving like they are much younger than they are, through behaviour like wetting the bed, having nightmares, becoming more clingy, and being more disobedient. This behaviour often presents itself before or after visiting the parent that lives separately from the rest of the family, as the child’s insecurity is brought to the fore. Older children often withdraw and become emotionally detached, or misbehave after their parents separate. It can be very difficult for children to concentrate during this period of change, so often a child’s marks will drop as a response to the divorce.
Make it clear that the children are not responsible for divorce
When going through with a divorce, parents can help their children by making sure that they know that they still have two parents who love them and will continue to look after them. It is important that the parents make it clear that the divorce is the parent’s responsibility and not the children’s, and that they protect their children from adult responsibilities. However, at the same time, the children need to feel that it is safe for them to express their views, ask questions and openly discuss what is going on. It is helpful to make as few changes as possible and stick to as similar a routine as before the divorce as possible so that the children feel that despite the changes that are in place, life is still normal. If you feel that your child is struggling to cope with the changes that the divorce has brought on, it is useful to seek professional help from a psychotherapist. Doctor Louw Alberts is experienced in matters of divorce – he is a psychologist in the Centurion and Pretoria area and welcomes your contact. Dr Alberts is a believer that you can change even the worst circumstances around.