Coping with Divorce
Separation and divorce can be devastating but there are things you can do to support and comfort your child. There are also things you may unwittingly do that can make coping with separation and divorce harder for your child --now and in future relationships.
Learn how to help your child cope with the negative short and long term effects of separation and divorce, as well as ways to help prevent trauma and decrease hardship. Challenges that are confronted effectively can improve relationships and strengthen your child’s ability to cope.
Reducing traumatic effects of divorce on children
Many children go through their parents’ divorce with relatively few problems or permanent negative effects. However, for other children, the effects of divorce can be traumatic and long-lived. Changes in a child’s living arrangements, time with parents, education and lifestyle can trigger the body’s fight-or-flight response – anger or fear. But when a child cannot adequately express or mentally process those emotions, the child may feel extremely powerless and “freeze.” This reaction is the basis of traumatic stress.
Trauma is determined by the child’s experience of the event, not simply the event itself. Different children in the same family may have a dramatically different emotional reaction to the numerous changes related to divorce. Your attitude shapes your children's attitude. Your words and actions can either expose your children to unnecessary emotional pain or help them develop in positive ways.
Trauma may cause depression and anxiety at the time of the separation or years after the divorce. It may also reoccur during weekends, holidays, birthdays or times when the child misses the complete family unit.
Steps to reduce traumatic effects of a divorce on your children
- Be honest about the potential for emotional trauma on each of your kids. Some children respond to adversity by withdrawing emotionally or freezing. These quiet children may be more upset, and in greater need of help, than children whose emotional upset is obvious.
- Allow your children to communicate openly. Encourage them to describe their feelings and express the sadness, fear and anger they may be experiencing. This gives you an opportunity to provide comfort and reassure them that they will be loved and continue to be cared for and safe.
- Offer your children choices, whenever possible, to increase their sense of power over their lives. These can include food choices, clothing choices and other choices that don’t disrupt your routines or endanger their well-being.
- Find support for yourself and your children. It takes a village to get things right. Reach out and ask for help from friends, family members, religious and secular support groups, counselors and therapists.
- Provide continuity. Children need the sense of continuity provided by a certain amount of structure such as dependable meal and bed times, leisure and work times.
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