Anyone going through a divorce or relationship breakdown will understand how intensely stressful it can be, it is also extremely stressful for any children, regardless of their age, who are caught up in the adult problems. Ensuring that the children are given the right level of unbiased emotional support during this time can be difficult and it falls to the parents and close relatives to provide it.
Children will experience a range of emotions including feeling vulnerable, a sense of loss, grief, anger and a general sense of having no power to help or change things.
I consider that the best thing that parents going through divorce can do for their children is to maintain a civil relationship, especially when it comes to making decisions about their children.
The children will take their lead from their parents. If the parents adjust well then there is a much better chance that the children will follow their example.
Custody battles indicate a poor adult adjustment and as these battles rage the children will experience a lower level of contact to one or both of their parents, and even if there is plenty of contact this will be tainted with the child having to balance the loyalty to each parent.
Abilene counsellor Marc Orner said.
"The parents don't need to poison the well, so to speak, they don't need to talk bad about each other to try to get the child on their side."
One of the more prominent emotions dealt with by those who counsel children through divorce is guilt.
Children are egocentric, so it's natural for them to think the divorce was about them or that they are to blame. Although each child will cope with the problems in their own way age and parenting ability will either help or hinder the progress.
Possible effects at developmental stages:
Age 3-5 Regression to previously attained milestones. Disturbed sleep patterns and separation loss.
Age 6-8 Open grieving for the absent parent and loss of the family structure often with fantasies about the parents getting ‘back-together’ and a ‘happy ending’. They have difficulty coming to terms with the permanency of divorce.
Age 8-11 Anger derived from a feeling of powerlessness. Children at this stage of development are easily influenced and more likely to be involved by ‘Parental Alienation’ resulting in a ‘bad’ parent, ‘good’ parent belief. Many children in this age group take on the role of ‘little parent’, looking after their unhappy family members including mum and dad.
Age 12-18 Adolescents is a difficult time without family upheaval. Depression often with violent outbursts and a blame culture can be expected. These children may ‘judge’ their parents in a moralistic way, inappropriately pointing out each of their parent’s perceived negative ‘contributions’ to the family breakdown.
Ideally parents would work together to ensure a positive transition for their children from the current family to the new family dimension, whatever that may be.
Unfortunately, adults do not always act in an adult, responsible manner especially when they are under emotional pressure. Many parents have themselves had a difficult childhood with poor parenting models and do not have the life-skills to keep their children’s needs in positive focus.
This is where experts and dedicated professionals can help. Parents should be encouraged to seek help and not feel that they are failing or view it as an admission that they are poor parents. Organisations like mychildcontact.com a website dedicated to helping parents and children to work through family break-down and maintaining contact/access to the absent parent have a great deal of experience and can help to keep the parents focussed on the needs of their children.
As a starting point parents should:
• Reassure the children that they are not the reason for the problems and that they are not responsible for their parent’s difficulties.
• Recognise that the children will experience many emotional difficulties and will not necessarily have the experience to handle their emotions.
• Children will need a lot of un-reserved love from all of the adults, including grandparents and other close family members as they move through the feelings of loss and grief.
• Do not think that the older the child, the better they will cope or that they do not need as much support, age does not negate the pain.
• Be consistent and considered.
• Avoid discussing the adult issues in front of the children, but do keep them informed. This should be age appropriate and definitely not a place to ‘offload’ the adult frustrations or hurt.
Copyright 2011 Kenn Griffiths, All Rights Reserved.
About the author:
Kenn Griffiths is a Writer, Investigator, Social Worker and Founder of the internationally acclaimed website www.mychildcontact.com
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