Divorce unleashes a lot of different emotions and many times adults are too caught up in their own pain and suffering to see the signs that your children are suffering, too. While adults have learned ways to cope, children have not yet developed coping mechanisms to help them deal with their emotions. Often, they don’t know how to even express what they are feeling, which is why parents must be extra vigilant in looking for signs that your children are suffering, including:
Frequent emotional outbursts.
Children who are having difficulties coping with their emotions about a divorce usually don’t know how to express their feelings, so they act out. If your child is exhibiting outbursts of anger or sadness, they are signaling to you that they need help. Ask your child what would make them feel better. They may say they don’t know, so suggest some ideas — doing a favorite activity together, spending time with friends, or having more contact with the parent who has moved out. They may even welcome the impartial input of an experienced family counselor to help them with the transition. Let them know you will do whatever they need (within reason) to help them cope.
Self-harm — like cutting, biting, or hitting oneself — is not just limited to teens. Younger children can engage in acts harmful to themselves as an act of extreme frustration at not being able to control their circumstances. Make sure your children know that the emotions they are feeling are valid, even though the method they are using to express them is not. Your job is to make them feel safe in expressing all their feelings, both bad and good, and to know when it’s time to call in a professional to help them cope.
It is not unusual for children to suffer from insomnia while their parents are going through a divorce. They may lay awake at night worrying about what will happen to them, and if the non-custodial parent will be unavailable to them. They probably won’t tell you they’re not sleeping, so you will have to keep an eye out for signs of sleep deprivation. To help them sleep, spend some quiet time together before bed just talking so they have an opportunity to express themselves. Teach them good sleep habits, like turning off all electronic devices at least a half hour before bed.
If you find your child withdrawing from you or other family members or friends, it usually means they are holding in their emotions. Keep talking to your children and give them some nonjudgmental space to talk to you about their feelings. Tell them you love them often, and that the divorce is not their fault. But do NOT talk to them about your ex; save that conversation for a friend or therapist.
Your legal team at Koenig|Dunne is here to provide you with guidance and advice regarding all of the issues you will face throughout the divorce process.