Divorce and children

Divorce is a traumatic experience for the adults involved, but it can be more damaging to children than to anyone else.  At least a third of the children and adolescents in the U.K. are or will be affected by the divorce or separation of their parents, according to the latest statistics.  Children react in different ways; some appear to cope with the situation quite well, but they are a fairly small percentage of the total.

In younger children, the fear and insecurity resulting from their parents’ break-up often manifests itself in a regression to babyish behaviour, such as bed-wetting and thumb-sucking.  These children may have trouble falling asleep and/or begin having nightmares.  They may cling to or shadow a parent, afraid of being left alone for even a few minutes.

The only way to alleviate the fear and resulting behaviour is for parents to make a priority of reassuring the child.  Whatever the adult issues may be, the child should never be made a part of them.  Parents need to make sure the child understands that divorce or separation is just between the adults, and that it doesn’t mean they love their child less or that the child is in any way at fault.

With older children, the break-up may result in other behaviour changes, usually acting out either in anger or as a means of getting attention, or both.  Adolescents will often become depressed and withdrawn, refusing to eat or overeating, or exhibiting disruptive behaviour with classmates and teachers.  They may be angry with one or both parents and take out their anger on any adult in sight.  Depression and moodiness are very common, quite often accompanied by emotional outbursts.

Keeping the lines of communication open, between the two adults and between adults and children, is absolutely essential.  Both parents need to make a point of reassuring their child or children and maintaining as many of the familiar routines as possible.  Children should feel free to ask questions of either parent, and never told that one parent is to blame or made to choose between them.

Children are not possessions, and should be kept well away from any adult battles in court or otherwise.  Minimizing the fears and insecurities that are almost inevitable in a divorce should be the first priority for parents with children of any age.  If the parents cannot provide the support and reassurance that is needed, help is available from outside sources such as the local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service.

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