How do children feel about divorce?
It is better for the children if they are made aware their parents are talking about a divorce.
When a couple decides to get a divorce, they usually have some weighty reasons for parting.
A divorce will have huge personal and economic effects on a family and it is often the children who are affected the most.
They will often experience grief when the parents divorce.
Can you do something that will make the divorce less painful for your children?
Whatever you decide to do to help your children, bear in mind their age and the level of understanding.
A lot of people 'forget' children during the process of divorce.
They forget to tell the children about what is about to happen, or think that the children won't notice or understand that there are problems.
It's very upsetting for them to be suddenly told that 'Mum and Dad are getting divorced now'.
It is better for the children if they are made aware their parents are talking about a divorce.
They can be told for example that 'Mum and Dad have some problems. We don't know how it's all going to end, whether we're going to get a divorce or find another solution. We're working hard to solve the problems and we're getting help.'
Do not involve the children in the discussion; that is way too big a responsibility.
They just need to know what is going on. If the children of a couple know at an early stage that their parents may break up, they will not lose trust when the divorce finally happens.
A child also learns that openness is a good thing and that it's OK to talk about problems.
Above all, honesty is a must. When a child asks a question, answer truthfully, even when talking about divorce and what might happen next.
Be aware of what a child's reactions might be and talk about how they feel. A certain amount of self-discipline on the parents’ part is required.
The divorce is likely to be very difficult to deal with, but sometimes the children must be put first and allowed to express their frustrations and feelings.
How will the divorce affect the children?
They will have two main concerns:
    •    Being separated from one of their parents
    •    Grief because the original family does not exist anymore.
The children may feel lost. Their own natural place in the family is not the same anymore.
Most children have a 'secret mission' to reunite their parents. If they are asked, they will usually prefer the parents to stay together instead of getting a divorce.
This is still the case when the marriage has been very difficult. Children are extremely loyal to their parents. They will often deny and hide their own feelings.
Many children feel guilty when their parents divorce. They think that if they had just behaved better or done better in school, it would not have happened.
It's important to explain to a child that they did not cause the divorce. A child needs to know that the divorce is a result of the parents not being able to work things out.
Children often experience a conflict of loyalty. When they are with one parent, they feel guilty about not being with the other, and vice versa.
It is important, as a parent, to tell a child that it is OK to spend time with the other parent as well. Tell the child that you know they want to be with the ex-partner as well, and that is not a problem.
How will your children react?
Children will always react to a divorce. The question is how and how strongly.
A child who does not show any feelings or reactions needs help to express what is going on inside. Otherwise, they are very likely to suffer depression later.
A pre-school child may show regressive behavior. This means that the child may return to an earlier stage of development and, for example, start to wet themselves again. A pre-school child may become confused, irritable or worried.
Children between six and nine are very vulnerable. At this age a child is still not mature enough to understand what is going on, but is old enough to understand that something very unpleasant is taking place.
They still depend very much on the parents and will have a hard time talking about their emotions.
They may react with anger, or by not concentrating or making progress at school or by having learning difficulties.
Children between 9 and 13 may have started having important relationships with other people besides their parents and family.
When the parents divorce, it will often be good for a child to talk to someone outside the family about their problems and feelings. Parents should listen to a 12- or 13-year-old child who says they want to live with one parent rather than the other.
They may react to the divorce with anger, grief or depression.
If a child does not get any better when things start getting back to normal, even when parents talk about what has happened and are very open, counseling can be considered.
A counselor can give advice about how to talk to children. Family therapy can also be considered together with individual therapy for the children.
Trusted good friends can be involved in supporting the children. Group therapy, involving other people in the same situation, can also be a big help.
How can parents make divorce less traumatic for their children?
Talk to the children. Be open; listen to how they feel. They may be angry, frightened or worried.
Everybody is entitled to his or her own feelings; that goes for children as well, though it may hurt a parent to hear how a decision to divorce has affected their children so deeply.
Even if parents and children talked a lot in the beginning, they can still talk about the divorce every once in a while.
Choose a time when both parents and children feel good.
Find out if a child has any new questions. Having an open conversation means a lot to the child. If it is not possible to do this oneself, find someone who can, maybe a professional.
Children can express themselves in other ways than with words. Play is very important. Play with the child; let them act out their feelings. Children may need to work off tension through energetic games.
Drawing may help a child. Children often draw things that are important to them.
Ask about the drawings; this can be a good way to start your child talking about what's going on inside.
Parents should not tell their children off if they don't like what they hear.
Parents should never criticize an ex-partner in front of their child. It can be tempting, but is very unfair.
Children know they are part of both parents, and they may feel they are as 'bad' as the 'ex' is. When a parent criticizes an ex, the parent criticizes the child.
Children should not be messengers for parents after a divorce. If a parent needs to tell their ex-spouse something, they should do it themselves.
If it's hard for the parents to talk face to face, they should write a letter. It is not fair to use a child as a buffer.
What affects how children will react to a divorce?
Even if parents deal with the problem and talk openly, other things may influence their children's reactions:
    •    the children's ages at the time of the divorce
    •    how smart they are
    •    how mature the children are emotionally
    •    the children's relationship with both parents
    •    how 'bad' the divorce was
    •    other people's reactions to the divorce
    •    if the children had problems before the divorce
    •    whether there are people outside the family who are willing to help.
What if there is a new step-family?
If the children have to deal with a stepmom or stepdad and new brothers and sisters right away, life will of course be even more complicated for them.
Expect difficulties. Children may not like these changes at first. They may need to fight for territory in the new family, both with the other children and with the stepparent.
It takes a lot of patience to make this work. A sense of humor helps! It takes time and then more time; it may well be a very long process.
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