How to help your children through your divorce depends upon many factors, and age is one of those factors.
Infant to Five. Young children don’t understand the word, “divorce.” They understand where they live and where each parent lives. So, keep it simple and tell them Daddy lives here and Mommy lives there, and [insert child’s name] lives with each of us on different days.
They may act-out to the new normal by throwing tantrums, excessive crying, hitting, etc. If these behaviors are new, then continue to use standard parenting techniques to address these behaviors.
If these behaviors either increase or do not decrease and you’ve exhausted your parenting techniques, then it may be time to seek out professional advice from a child psychologist. Why? Your child is too young to identify what they are feeling and why they are feeling it. A professional can help figure-out what is happening and strategies to support your child (and you).
Six to twelve. Children between six to twelve feel scared when faced with a divorce. Why? They crave stability, certainty, and predictableness.
So, keep everything a known quantity. Tell them the goals (or plans if you have already agreed with your former spouse). Don’t engage in speculation. Make sure they know that you will be taking care of them and they don’t need to worry.
Their schoolwork can be affected due to their inability to concentrate. So, help them out with their schoolwork more and don’t sweat the social studies grade.
They may think, “If my parents fell out of love with each other, will they fall out of love for me, too?” So, tell them you love them again and again and again. Tell them so much that they roll their eyes at you.
Thirteen to Eighteen. This age group is a bit of a mess when it comes to a divorce. They tend to either entirely ignore the divorce or overly react to the divorce. They may either stick their head in the proverbial sand and wait for the conflict to pass or they may react by indulging in alcohol or drugs.
Remember, they have all these hormones rushing through their bodies making every emotion bigger. Read, what you are feeling about the divorce times 50.
So, if they act out, they REALLY act out. If they ignore the divorce, they truly ignore it by putting on their headphones, closing the bedroom door, and only coming out for food or friends.
Some will also sexually act-out in order to feel the love they are craving and missing from the divorce. So, tell them you love them again and again. Give them hugs. Make sure they know they are special and loved for who they are in the world.
They want freedom, but they also still require the safety of your home and your love. So, keep the conflict to a minimum, remind them that you are still there to take care of them, and that they can leave the worrying to you.
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