Children look to their parents for stability, routine, and love. When the parents’ marriage breaks down, children react to this sudden change in their family structure in numerous ways. Parents who want to help their children through this change and continue to provide the love and support their kids desire should first learn what children experience during divorce.
Blame and Guilt
When kids first learn that their parents are getting divorced, they often blame themselves and wonder if they have done something to cause the break up of the marriage. They may think that because they disobeyed or failed to clean up their room that they somehow contributed to the divorce.
When they have convinced themselves that they are to blame, at least to some degree, children may also feel guilty. They may think that if they had just behaved better or somehow acted differently that their parents may still want to be together.
Kids likewise may believe that they can convince their parents to stay together and fall in love again. They might go to extreme measures like cleaning the house, trying to fix dinner by themselves, or otherwise trying to relieve the stress that they perceive their parents to be experiencing.
They also might verbally argue with their parents, trying to remind their mom and dad of how much they used to love each other and all of the good times that they experienced in the marriage. They feel that if they can rekindle the love between their parents that their mom and dad may decide to remain married.
Anger is one of the most common emotions that kids experience when their parents divorce. Even older children and teenagers may not understand why their parents just cannot get past whatever issues have caused the breakdown of the marriage. Because they do not understand, they react in anger.
They also may become angry when their mom and dad compete for their love and attention. Kids often do not want to take sides in a divorce. When the divorce is contentious and bitter, parents may try to win their kids’ affection and favor.
The kids in turn might become angry because they do not want to choose one parent over the other. Instead of showing favor to one parent, kids might angrily turn their backs on and ignore both.
Helping Kids through Divorce
When parents want to help their kids cope with the divorce, it is important that they remind their children often that they are not to blame for the circumstances. Kids should be appeased that they are still loved and protected despite their parents no longer being together.
Parents should also continue to provide a routine as much as possible. Something as simple as having dinner on time each night or going to church like usual each week can be enough of a comfort to help kids feel safe and protected.
Finally, parents should utilize counseling services if their kids show extreme distress because of the divorce. Just like adults, children may become fearful or depressed. Professional counseling can provide kids with the objectivity and reassurance they need to get through the divorce and restructuring of their households.
Divorce can be traumatic for children. Parents can help by learning more about what kids experience during divorces.