Helping Kids Cope with Divorce
- Divorce is one of the top five reasons kids wind up in therapy, and an unstable family life (often a precursor of divorce) is another.
- The most stressful event a child may experience is the death of a parent, but divorce is the second most stressful.
- While the divorcing parents’ stress often peaks during the time of the actual separation, a child’s grief can linger for many years. Dr. Judith Wallerstein’s study of children of divorce found that, “divorce is a cumulative experience for the child. Its impact increases over time.”
- Wallerstein also found that adults whose parents divorced while they were young often believe that divorce is the first alternative to conflict in their own marriages.
Children’s Reactions to Divorce
- An outgoing child may suddenly become irritable or withdrawn, or a popular teen may lose interest in hanging out with his friends.
- A young child who is potty trained may start bedwetting again or exhibit other young behaviors, such as thumb-sucking and clinging to parents. Kindergarten-aged children sometimes feel abandoned and fear abandonment by both parents.
- An older child may have trouble sleeping and doing schoolwork.
- An otherwise confident child may suddenly begin feeling anxious and insecure in social situations.
- Middle school-aged children often “somatize” their grief, i.e., they get headaches or begin feeling sick rather than expressing their anger verbally.
- A decade-long study looked at teens involved with alcohol, drugs, and illegal activities and found that they were more likely to be the children of divorced parents.
- Please note: Just because your child does not act out in any of these ways does not mean that she is not mourning the divorce. Everyone responds to grief differently. Shock, anger, depression, and isolation are common feelings that do not always have outwardly visible symptoms.
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