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Divorce: Are Your Kids Okay?

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When spouses get divorced, it’s typical for it to affect them emotionally and even physically. After all, divorce is known for being one of the hardest things an adult will every go through, second only to the death of a loved on. Even if it’s meant to be and for the best, divorce can lead to anxiety, depression, overeating, loss of appetite, insomnia, and other unpleasant emotions that usually subside with time.

If you’re getting a divorce, you’re probably going through some things yourself. Even if you’ve been fantasizing about the divorce for years, maybe you have to sell the house that you renovated by yourself, or maybe you’re going to see your children a lot less, or maybe you’re going to lose some friends over the split.

Perhaps the idea of drafting new estate planning documents, splitting your 401k, moving to a smaller place, dividing the furniture, canceling the joint credit cards, refinancing the joint auto loans, and deciding who gets the family dog is all too overwhelming. Understandable. But if you have children with your spouse, you have added stress that’s for sure.

Your Kids May Be Hurting Too

Divorce is hard, so it’s no reason why parents can get so wrapped up in their divorce that they forget that it’s affecting their children too. While infants and toddlers may not even have a clue what’s going on, that’s not the case for children ages three and up, possibly younger. If your children are in elementary school, then they’ll definitely be aware of what’s going on, though each child handles divorce differently.

How your child handles your divorce will depend on a variety of factors. For example, is your child close to the other parent? For example, if you’re a stay-at-home mother and your husband is always on the road for work, your child may not notice when he moves out.

On the other hand, if your husband has dinner with the family every night and puts your child to bed and suddenly he moves out, your child may definitely miss his presence and their daily routines.

Do you and your spouse argue all the time? If so, your child may hate all the fighting and they may even be begging you to get a divorce, especially if your child is older or if your spouse is emotionally or physically abusive. There are definitely situations where a child wants their parent to get a divorce. In these cases, the child may fully support the breakup and they may be happier and more emotionally stable once the parents split up and there is peace in the home.

Minimizing the Effects of Divorce on Kids

Each year, more than one million children in the United States witness their parents go through a divorce. Naturally, divorcing parents are concerned about their children’s welfare during this stressful time. Some parents are so worried about the ill effects of divorce on children that they choose to stay in unhappy marriages to spare their children from the trauma of divorce.

If your marriage is broken beyond repair, you have hope. Research has proven time and again that high levels of parental conflict during and after a divorce is associated with children having a harder time dealing with their parents’ divorce.

“Even though children of divorce generally do well, a number of factors can reduce the problems they might experience. Children fare better if parents can limit conflict associated with the divorce process or minimize the child's exposure to it,” according to an article in Scientific American.

The authors of the Scientific American article offer this advice to parents going through a divorce:

  • Good parenting can buffer against divorce-related problems in children
  • Parents should be warm and provide their children with emotional support
  • Parents should closely monitor their children’s activities
  • When parents use discipline, it shouldn’t be overly-permissive or overly-strict

In addition to the above, other factors that affect how well children adjust to a divorce include economic stability, and social support from their friends and other adults, such as their teachers, which brings us to another suggestion: We recommend notifying your children’s school and teachers about the divorce and asking them to let you know if they notice an behavioral or academic changes with your children.

When It’s Time to Seek Help

“For some children, parental separation isn’t the hardest part. Instead, the accompanying stressors are what make divorce the most difficult. Changing schools, moving to a new home, and living with a single parent who feels a little more frazzled are just a few of the additional stressors that make divorce difficult.

“Financial hardships are also common following divorce. Many families have to move to smaller homes or change neighborhoods and they often have fewer material resources,” Amy Morin, LCSW wrote in Verywell Family.

Morin says that it’s normal for children to struggle with their feelings and their behavior right after their parents separate. If your child’s mood issues or behavioral problems continue, she suggests seeking professional help. She says to start by talking to your child’s pediatrician. Tell him or her about your concerns and whether your child would benefit by professional support, such as a therapist.

Some children will find individual therapy helps them sort their emotions, while family therapy may be recommended to help a family address the changes in their family’s dynamics, says Morin. “Support groups allow kids in certain age groups to meet with other children who may be experiencing similar changes in family structure.”

Next: Will Your Children Have Two Homes?

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