A child’s psychological needs increase dramatically during and after a parental divorce. Because they are living in the center of what might feel like an emotional roller coaster, their psychological needs for safety, acceptance, and love dramatically increase. It’s essential that divorcing parents are aware of the growing needs of their children while they move through the divorce process. In fact, if they can remember to put the children first, the impact of divorce will not be as severe.
Dr. Phil, a popular psychologist and TV show facilitator, recently wrote a book titled, Family First: Your Step-by-Step Plan for Creating a Phenomenal Family. In his book, he makes clear the intense needs of children as they experience their parents separate. Because it’s a time when children are feeling the impact of the relationship crisis between their parents, they may feel guilt, fear, confusion, and even shame.
Parents should make it a goal to put the children first to avoid having them bear the burden of the breakup. The following is a list of needs that children have while parents experience a divorce.
Need for Acceptance
Children’s need for acceptance may dramatically increase during a divorce because the structure that held them since birth is breaking apart. In fact, this need may be the greatest that they have while a divorce is happening. A child’s sense of self may become very fragile, especially if they are at a young age. They will yearn for approval, belonging, and acceptance by both parents. Some children may begin to give up some of their own needs in order save the marriage. “If we don’t make noise,” children may think to themselves while parents are fighting, “perhaps they will stop. However, what they really need to know is that they will be loved and accepted by both parents regardless of what happens.
Need for Structure and Safety
When children feel the structure of their home and family unit, they feel safe. Now that the leaders of the home are separating, their need for structure and safety will get stronger. Parents might need to consistently communicate that their children are safe and secure regardless of what happens. They need to know that life will continue to be predictable and that any changes that take place they will know about.
Need to Be Free of Guilt or Blame
Sadly, children often bear the weight of a breaking marriage. However, they need to know that they are in no way to blame for what is going on in the marriage. Children might think that because they misbehaved or because they did something wrong, the divorce is happening as a result. Parents should be sure to communicate the opposite.
Need For A Stable Parent
Even though separation is difficult, parents need to continue to appear strong for their children. Strength of character, love, and presence for children need to continue despite the relationship crisis. Children will in fact be worried about their parents and they need to be reassured that those who care for them are still strong enough to meet their needs.
Need To Let Children be Children
Lastly, children should not have to take on the job of caring for their parents. When parents become emotionally troubled, they can sometimes turn to their children for love and support. However, children need to continue to be children. They shouldn’t have to bear the burden of their parent’s emotional needs. It should remain the other way around.
If parents can tend to these needs of their children, a divorce won’t negatively impact their psychological or emotional well being.