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Managing Children's Anger About Divorce or Separation

By — National Association of Social Workers
Updated on Dec 16, 2008

Introduction

Anger is a common emotion felt by most children during their parents’ divorce transition. Kids seldom want their family and their familiar home to disintegrate beneath them. They often feel powerless, afraid and furious that parents who are supposed to protect them from pain, seem to be the source of it.

Some children express their anger as rage, while others withdraw or become depressed. Often the anger is never openly directed at the parents themselves, at least not about the separation or divorce. Instead, there are more frequent and intense fights between siblings or playmates. There may be more oppositional behavior around ordinary and reasonable expectations by authority figures at home, school or both. Frequently heard is the classic parent-wounding epithet: “I hate you!” Or the child may spend all his or her time hiding in the bedroom with music or TV, phone, computer or electronic games.

What’s a Parent to Do?

Many parents fail to recognize the underlying source of the outrageous behavior and clamp down with groundings and assorted punishments “to get the kid to shape up.” Parents are even sometimes inclined to take the anger personally and feel unloved and unappreciated. Neither of these choices will help the child through this difficult time

Children (and adults) need to learn to express their feelings, including anger, in a constructive way. Using words will do nicely. Reflect back what is seen and heard through sentences such as, “You seem to be pretty angry at me lately.” Or “You sound furious right now.” It is always best to keep one’s voice even and in an understanding tone, rather accusatory. Listen for as long as s/he is willing to talk. Children need to know that someone cares enough to hear them out.

Hints for Managing Children's
Anger in Divorce or Separation

 Teach children to talk about
feelings rather than act them out
in unacceptable ways.

 Listen. Listen. Listen

 Help the child think of possible
solutions for the immediate
probem.

 Offer ways to express feelings
without words, such as art and
physical activity.

 Talk to the othe parent about
handling the child's anger in
coordinated ways. 

Encourage Feeling Expression in Words

Empathize by letting her know most kids would feel as she does, and, in fact, if you were the kid in this situation, you might feel the same way, too. You may hear only about the unfairness of your TV watching rules, but discharging this anger by talking about it calmly will prepare the way for other discussions about the separation, and will lighten her anger load to make the rest just a little more bearable.

Helping children identify the feelings, and then come up with their own workable solutions to the problems, gives them a sense of power. A sense of power and control is often lost when children are in the midst of a divorce. Children can become proactive and find solutions they can implement themselves. Allowing solutions to be voiced, brings a sense of control back to the children.

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