The separation or dissolution of a parent’s marriage can be devastating for children of any age. As children at this young age may not fully understand the complexities of human relationships and why their parents cannot stay married, keep your explanations simple. Focus on providing as much security, stability and assurance that they will continue to be loved and cared for by both parents, where possible.
Younger children may find it hard to process and describe their feelings at the onset of the news. But as they adjust to the changes or when they start seeing less of one parent, a mixture of sadness, fear, or anxiety may set in.
They may ask questions about how their parents’ separation will impact them and their daily routines. These include, “Who will I be staying with?”, “Will I still see my other parent regularly?”, “Will my parents get back together?”.
Some children may even wonder if they did something wrong or were the cause of the separation. Assure them that they are not the cause.
Reiterate that while there are going to be changes to the family and living arrangements, nothing will change your love for them, and they will continue to be loved and cared for. It is important not to badmouth your partner in front of your child, as this may add to the feelings of conflict and confusion.
Older children may experience a sense of loss with their parents separating and have a negative view of themselves compared to their peers. They may also feel anger, sadness or even resentment toward their parents for the breakdown in their marriage and family life.
Look out for any unusual behavioural changes as tweens may act out due to their difficult emotions, particularly if they find it hard to express their feelings with their parents. They may become withdrawn or develop attention-seeking behaviours due to the fear of being abandoned or neglected.
Some preteens may even vent the anger they feel on their siblings; bullying them, shouting at them or directing their frustration at them.
Instead of trying to make them accept the change and move on, take time to listen to check in on how they’re doing. Ask them to share their feelings, even if these are negative and you instinctively want to shut them down. Validate their feelings by saying, “I can see that you are upset/scared/angry. Can you tell me more?” This helps your child feel seen and heard and let’s them know that they can come to you with any of their difficult feelings.
Parents may assume that teenagers have greater mental capacity to deal with the adjustments now that they are older. However, this depends on the maturity of your child. If teens have heard their parents argue or seen one parent staying out a lot more, chances are they’ve picked up on what is happening.
Even when a separation or divorce is amicable, it’s natural for your teenagers to grieve the loss of their family. Give them space for their reactions or non-reactions, and time to process their feelings.
The pain from their parents’ separation can sometimes impact their identity, self-esteem, and future relationships. Remember that in this teenage stage, there are many changes taking place in their life, emotionally and mentally as well. This makes open and honest communication even more crucial in the time surrounding a divorce. Make sure your teen understands that they can come to you to talk about anything.
To maintain stability in their lives, it’s crucial to surround your teens with other nurturing relationships. Be intentional about building a supportive community around them, such as with their grandparents, extended family members like uncles and aunties, cousins or others trusted adults in their life, like a teacher, counsellor or coach.
Be patient even if your child seems like they are pushing you away. Open and honest communication reduces the chance of deep emotional problems festering beneath the surface.
Coping with divorce is hard at any age and children especially can have a more challenging time. If you are considering divorce, do consider how it can potentially impact your children and take time to help your children navigate the complex emotions surrounding divorce. If you are seeking counselling help, look no further.
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