“Children ought not to be victims of the choices adults make for them.” –Wade Horn (U.S. Assistant Secretary for Children and Families under President George W. Bush).
Thousands of children, pre-adolescents and teenagers experience the pain and stress of their parents’ divorcing each year. How those children react to divorce depends on their ages, personalities, and the circumstances of their parents’ separations and divorce processes.
- Infants certainly do not understand the scope of their parents’ divorces. Therefore, any changes in the children’s parents’ behaviors and emotions can reflect on them in a negative manner.
- Children of pre-school age often blame themselves for their parents’ divorces, and they often fear that their parents will abandon them.
- Pre-adolescents certainly know what divorce is. Unfortunately, that knowledge often causes them much psychological pain as they so often lack the coping skills to address their parents’ divorces.
- Teenagers experience much stress during and after their parents’ divorces. They are apprehensive about their futures, and too often divorced parents fail to provide teens that solid parental support they need to become successful adults.
EVERY DIVORCE will affect the children involved to some extent. Often the initial reaction is one of shock, unhappiness, frustration, anger, resentment, or apprehension. However, children are resilient and will often find ways to cope with the stress connected to their parents’ divorces. Many become more flexible, tolerant young adults.
Unfortunately, others have more difficulty coping with the breakup of their traditional family life. Counseling for children of divorce can be beneficial if they show signs of behavioral issues, such as becoming angry more often without any apparent reason or cause. Others may need extensive interaction with both parents. Too often adults experiencing a divorce seek support from friends, counselors, therapists, clergy and family, and the children are left to find their own ways to cope. In some cases, the children may need that same support.
The most important actions that both parents can take to assist their children through a divorce include the following:
- Keep conflicts, arguments, and legal discussions concerning the divorce away from the children; those types of conversations should be dealt with privately between the parties as the children will often think they are to blame for the divorce.
- Minimize the interruptions to children’s daily routines; parents who are divorcing should continue to support their children in a positive manner to assure them that their lives will not be changing in a negative manner.
- Confine negativity and blame between the parents to private therapy sessions or conversations with friends outside the home; children sometimes intuitively will feel that they have to “pick sides” or have to become mediators. Those should not be their roles.
- Keep each parent involved in the children’s lives; the children should understand that they still have a mother and father—both of whom love them and will continue to support them. This does not mean that “gifts” from one or both parents will express support and love—parents should not misconstrue that they can “make up” for the divorce through materialistic means.