You and your spouse aren’t the only ones going through the divorce. If you have children, the dissolution can be sudden, disruptive, and unnerving. An analysis of this impact published in The Linacre Quarterly found: “The majority of divorces affect younger children since 72 percent of divorces occur during the first 14 years of marriage. Because a high percentage of divorced adults remarry, and 40 percent of these remarriages also end in divorce, children may be subjected to multiple family realignments.”
The abrupt and drastic change can be stressful for children under 18. They witnessed their parents fighting, may be uprooted from their family home, are constantly transitioning from one home to another, and may be subject to new faces such as step-parents entering their lives. Add to this their parents’ preoccupation with the ongoing proceedings.
As you deal with legal, financial, real estate, and mental health aspects of your divorce, you become focused on ensuring a stable future for yourself and your kids. Typically, you’re feeling a variety of emotions, from betrayal to anger to heartache. As you sort through these issues and feelings, it can leave little energy left for your children.
“Many children whose parents are going through a divorce experience dis-empowerment,” states an article titled “Children & Divorce: Protecting the Innocence of Children” in Psychology Today. “This means that while your child might normally feel enabled, with a lack of support they might feel less confident. This can accompany the stress of divorce, and it is important for you to make sure your child has the resources he or she needs to succeed.”
Often, adolescents will adjust without outside intervention after what’s known as a “settling in” period. However, you can ensure your kid feels empowered by finding them a psychologist or psychiatrist who can guide them through the divorce, help them process their emotions, and provide a safe space for their concerns. Indicators that therapy is a necessity include: eating or sleeping issues, persistent melancholy, disinterest in previous interests or friendships, poor school performance, agitation, and more. For a full list of signs, take a look at HuffPost’s list here.
Therapy can alleviate these symptoms, while providing specific benefits for every age group. Here’s a useful breakdown of indicators, treatments, and advantages.
Children Under 5
Children 5 and under are susceptible to development regression such as bedwetting or separation anxiety. Counseling sessions can help these children develop coping mechanisms and family routines to cease these behaviors.
Ages 5 to 12
During this age range, adolescents typically have a greater understanding of divorce and what it will entail. However, this group will often blame themselves for their parents’ dissolution and ask questions such as, “What did I do?” or “Is this because I didn’t do what you said?” Therapy will consist of one-on-one sessions, during which the psychologist or psychiatrist will help them sort through these feelings and explain the divorce has nothing to do with the child. They will also create stable routines at both parents’ homes to help them adjust and cope with the new changes.
Teens between 13 and 18 understand the causes of divorce—and they’re not one of them. In some cases, they may feel relieved when their parents finally split because it means less arguments and tension. However, other children will express anger or sadness, and begin to act out. Even if they’re extremely upset about it, their main concern is the impact on their social lives. Therapy sessions during this age range focus on helping teens through their feelings, whether they’re positive or negative, and to cope with them in healthy ways.
Multiple studies have also proven divorce has a long-term emotional and mental effect on kids. An analysis published in the journal Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology found “children in one-parent, blended, and step families experienced a higher prevalence of mental disorders.” Another survey reports divorce is a strong indicator of early alcohol use. Others indicate that divorce also increased the likelihood of alcohol and drug abuse in the future. In addition, adolescents with separated parents “had an excess risk of recurrence of depression in adulthood, compared with depressed adolescents with non-separated parents,” it states.
Ensuring your child receives the one-on-one care that they need from a professional can help them work through their feelings and find better coping skills. Therapy can mitigate the risk of your child developing a potentially harmful mental illness in the short- or long-term.
Find a psychologist or psychiatrist in your area by using our ProConnect platform. This resource will connect you to a variety of local mental health professionals to assist your child through the divorce process. Search for one that best fits your child’s needs here.
Gregory C. Frank is the CEO and Founder of DivorceForce.