Divorce is a difficult process for the whole family but is perhaps the most heartbreaking for children. After all, from their perspective, it can feel like the world as they know it is ending.
Initially, children are likely to respond to divorce with feelings of stress, anger, worry or disbelief. Depending on their age and personality, the trauma of divorce puts children at a higher risk of developing new emotional and behavioral problems, including:
- Mental health problems
- Poor academic performance
- Behavioral issues
- Increased risk-taking
Fortunately, this isn’t the case forever. Research has shown that the first one to two years of divorce is the most challenging for children, but they usually bounce back in time. As a parent, there are also supportive strategies you and your ex can implement to help your child through the transition.
Keep the peace with your ex
The last thing you want to do is put your child in the middle of your divorce or expose them to your conflicts. Hostility and contention are proven to increase a child’s distress. Research has linked screaming matches and threats between exes to behavioral problems in children, but even a minor spat with your ex can take a toll on your child’s well-being.
Maintain a healthy relationship
After a divorce, children want to regain their sense of security. A healthy relationship with your child with low levels of conflict can help them to develop high self-esteem and good academic performance following a divorce. Using positive communication and ensuring your child feels loved and supported will help them to adjust to divorce better.
Keep things consistent
Ensuring that your child has the same set of expectations, rules and punishments at both households will make the transition much more manageable. A 2011 study revealed that effective discipline after a divorce decreased the likelihood of delinquency and improved academic performance. Be sure you and your ex communicate and follow through with consequences at each household.
Know when to seek help
It’s normal for kids to have issues with their feelings and behaviors following a divorce. However, if the bad moods persist or your child seems to be struggling to cope, it’s essential to know when to seek professional help. Sharing your concerns with your child’s pediatrician is an excellent place to start, but you may also seek out a child therapist, family therapist or support group for help.
Change always takes time to adjust to. However, children are incredibly resilient. With plenty of love and support, you and your child can expect much brighter days ahead.