Helping your child through divorce - understanding what they're thinking and feeling

Divorce can be a difficult and confusing time for children. Even in the most amicable of separations, adjusting to the change can be a challenge.

It’s important for parents to try to understand what their children are thinking and feeling as they go through the divorce. That way, it will be much easier to help them with the adjustment, and look forward to the future.

Let’s take a look at some of the ways parents can do that.

Adjusting to change

Everyone responds differently to change, and will adjust in their own way. Disruption to daily life will have an impact on a child, regardless of how old they are. Parents should try to keep a note of any changing behaviours, so that they can spot any patterns and move forward in a way that will help them adjust.

Useful tips include keeping their child up to date with short-term changes, so that they feel more prepared for the disruption. It’s also good to keep routines and activities as consistent as possible (for example after school clubs or extracurricular activities) as it will help them to retain a sense of normality and security.

Parents also need to give their child time to adjust. Again, this will vary from child to child. For some children, taking things in their stride comes quite naturally, for others it may be a process that they have to go through. However long it takes, it’s important for parents to let their children know that there’s no timeline, and that they can adjust at their own pace.

Different behaviours and needs at different ages

A child’s needs will change as they adjust to your separation, so trying to understand their needs is going to be an ongoing process.

For example, babies may cry more often, and may be more irritable or clingy. Toddlers might be defiant and argumentative. Divorcing parents may also find young children regressing and behaving younger than they are, or taking the blame for their parents’ separation.

Teenagers may have similar reactions to younger children, but as they go through their own personal changes, they may display other behaviours too. For example, they may take it out on or isolate themselves from their parents, or they may avoid their own feelings and act too independently.

Manage feelings, not just behaviour

Recognising behaviour is a good first step, but it’s not the end of the road. Think of the behaviour as the symptom, and the feelings as the cause. Children will behave in certain ways if they’re feeling certain emotions. Parents need to understand the feelings behind the behaviour if they want to help their children adjust.

For example, don’t just punish the child if they’re lashing out. Try to work out what’s going on inside, and talk to them about what they're feeling that’s making them lash out in this way. It will be much more productive in the long-term.

Listening and communicating

Knowing they’re being listened to is essential in helping children through a divorce. Being able to talk about how they’re feeling will help them process their emotions and adjust to the change. It will also let them know that you’re still there to support them and care for them.

It’s also important for parents to be on the same page as one another when it comes to how they’ll approach the subject of their divorce to their children. That way, the child will get consistent answers and will be able to understand it more clearly.

Encourage children to talk about how they feel; don’t push them to talk if they don’t want to say a lot, but be ready to listen if they want to talk about it another time.

Starting Point can help

At Starting Point, our main focus is always the children. We provide a safe space for families to spend time together, with no judgement.

To find out more about how we can help, get in touch with us today.