When parents separate and divorce, children experience change and loss in a similar way to bereavement. Losing the constancy of the family home unit makes them mourn and wish for it to be reconstituted. Connecting with other human beings is what gives us purpose and meaning and without it there is real suffering. It is possible to maintain a connection throughout divorce but children will need care and help to process the separation.
There may be good custody arrangements in place but the child still has to learn how to manage the transitions each time they leave one home to stay at the other. These are considerable losses to cope with emotionally and complicating it further is when the parents argue about custody arrangements. Children need and like clear boundaries and routines and when these are broken the children are the ones that suffer the most because it is so much harder for them to express their feelings.
When parents decide to live apart, the level of stress and upset a child feels can vary considerably. A child may feel a real sense of loss as ultimately they are losing their home and normality; their way of life. Naturally there will be bouts of being afraid of being left alone, with a feeling that if one parent leaves, then the other may also leave. Anger and rejection are common feelings. A child may feel very insecure and anxious about having caused the parental separation with a sense of guilt. They will probably feel torn between both parents. These feelings can be made worse by the fact that many children have to leave their family home, live part-time or even permanently somewhere else and this may even mean changing schools which is full of upheaval.
Most families separating will face some financial difficulties even if they didn’t exist before. This may effect the child in being suddenly unable to continue their extracurricular activities for example, these sudden changes can cause lots of emotional stress for both the child and parents, impacting the relationship further.
How to help your child through divorce.
ROUTINE Maintain a regular routine to help the child with increased anxiety and change. Loss of routine can very quickly cause feelings of insecurity.
ACCEPTANCE A child’s age and developmental level can have enormous impact on how
a child understands loss. Children do not always show emotion immediately although they are feeling it.
HONESTY Always be open and honest about what is happening. This enables the child to feel safe in talking about feelings.
NORMALITY Invite your child to establish new habits and rituals as well as trying to keep old ones. If they are living in two different homes this will help them to settle.
SIGNPOSTS Increased anxiety can appear in many ways - inability to sleep, lack of interest, loss of appetite or attendance at school. Don’t focus on the behaviour, just help them to recognise and accept the feelings that are driving the behaviour.
See advice of a professional at this difficult and sensitive time. Amanda at https://www.newleafsolicitors.co.uk/