Parenting Coordination Central

 

Reactions of Children

In order to help your child adjust it is important that you recognize normal reactions to separation and divorce.  Knowing what to expect may help you determine if your child would benefit from therapy or other services.  Suggestions to assist your child adjust to their new family structure are noted at each age level as well as at the end of this page.

REACTIONS OF INFANTS AND TODDLERS:

  • Loss of developmental accomplishments (return to bottle/crawling, waking in the night)
  • Upset when their needs are overlooked or when caretaking schedules are unpredictable
  • Demonstrates fear by clinging to parent and refusing to separate from parent
  • Exhibits intense feelings of frustration and anger through biting, hitting, throwing toys
  • May not interact with adult caregivers
  • Loss of interest in exploring their environment

What you can do:

  • Make sure the daily routine is reasonably consistent
  • Initially keep child-care arrangements intact
  • Maintain consistent drop-off and pick-up times
  • Allow your child to take one or two familiar objects with them as they move back and forth between caregivers
  • Establish frequent and consistent contact with both parents
  • Avoid long separations from either parent

REACTIONS OF PRESCHOOLERS:

  • Loss of developmental accomplishments (return to bottle, soiling self, baby talk, etc.)
  • Confusion over the cause of the divorce and how it will affect their own life
  • Belief that they are responsible for the divorce
  • Fears of rejection and abandonment
  • May demonstrate separation anxiety
  • May exhibit anger and aggression toward other children or siblings
  • Temper tantrums may increase
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • May appear joyless, listless and withdrawn    

What you can do:

  • Reassure them that they will be taken care of
  • Reassure them that they are not the cause of the divorce
  • Keep parental routines as consistent as possible.
  • Inform your child when you are leaving and communicate that you will return
  • Maintain firm and consistent discipline
  • Help them relax before bedtime by engaging in soothing activities

 REACTIONS OF ELEMENTARY SCHOOL AGE CHILDREN (6-8 years of age):

  • Preoccupation with feelings of sadness, loss, rejection and guilt
  • May cry easily, act cranky, and be anxious
  • Distractible; difficulty concentrating, decline in school performance
  • Complaints of headaches, stomachaches or other physical complaints
  • Attempts to actively reunite their parents (sometimes by having problems that force parental involvement)
  • Strong sense of responsibility to take care of their parents

What you can do:

  • Prevent your child from taking on the role of adult
  • Discuss feelings and emotions
  • Help them to relax and feel less responsible for adult matters
  • Continue to act like the responsible adult and do not share adult information with them

 

REACTIONS OF THE PRETEEN (9-12 years of age):

  • Exhibit sadness, loneliness, insecurity, anger and feelings of helplessness
  • Feel alone and frightened, but since they are easily embarrassed they may pretend to act cool
  • Complaints of headaches, stomachaches or other physical ailments
  • Takes sides and chooses one parent over the other
  • Have a strong sense of loyalty and may tend to rescue and  side with the "wronged" parent
  • Adopt an adult role
  • Decline in school performance
  • Engage in stealing, lying, or refusing to go to school
  • Become involved in sexual behavior

 What you can do:

  • Acknowledge your child's anger and attempt to change those things that are most upsetting
  • Prevent your child from choosing sides

REACTIONS OF THE ADOLESCENT:

  • Less talkative and temporarily withdraw to cope with their  feelings and emotions
  • Exhibit angry and rebellious behavior• become sexually active
  • Use drugs and alcohol as a way to escape
  • Decline in school performance
  • Preoccupied with a sense of family
  • May adopt an adult role

What you can do:

  • Implement and maintain discipline
  • Set limits
  • Be awake when your teenage returns home
  • Discourage your child from assuming an adult role
  • Establish new family traditions
  • Plan for at least one family meal per week
  • Make yourself available when they first go to bed when they may be more available to share

TIPS FOR CHILDREN OF ALL AGES:

  • Encourage open and honest communication between parent and child. Allow your child to express their fears, concerns, and complaints.
  • Avoid relying on your child as a source of emotional support.
  • Answer your child's questions honestly and patiently without providing adult information that would cause undue stress. When your child asks you a question that is difficult to answer due to its personal nature, respond by saying, "It's okay for you to ask me questions. Sometimes I may not give you an answer because I don’t feel comfortable sharing it with you at the time.  Please respect my privacy and I will respect yours."
  • Reassure your child that they will be taken care of, that you still love them, and that the divorce was not their fault.
  • Minimize positive and negative change. As much as possible maintain the same residence, school, church, and child-care facilities.
  • Help your child maintain contact with friends and extended family on both sides
  • Prepare your child for changes before the change happens.
  • Do not let your child determine if and when they spend time with the other parent.  Make this an adult decision so they are less likely to feel caught in the middle or inappropriately empowered.
  • Permit your child to love both parents.
  • Provide a stable and secure home by practicing.
  • Make your own recovery a priority.  Your child's adjustment may mirror your own.
  • Provide consistent discipline, maintaining rules, limits and consistent daily routines and schedules.
  • Children at any age may become overly compliant and not appear to be impacted negatively by the separation.  This is not necessarily an indication that your child is doing well. They may be harmed by your divorce reactions but internalizing their pain.
  • Post the "Divorce Rules" and honor them. (see Divorce Rules)

 

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