Help your child cope with divorce – it matters for their mental health
What you need to know:
- Children who are already in problematic homes prior to the divorce usually suffer more.
- The more intense and frequent arguments and fights between parents, the more the children are likely to experience psychological problems after divorce.
- It is critical for parents to reassure their kids that the divorce or separation will not injure parental care, love, emotional, social, and physical development.
According to psychologist Ken Munyua, children of divorcees will either suffer for a while and recover, or the impact of the divorce will last into their adulthood.
Whenever it happens, divorce triggers feelings of shame, anger, anxiety, profound loss and fear of abandonment, guilt, depression, and sometimes a desire for revenge. In most cases, children will blame themselves and question their position in their parents’ lives. For example, when you’re newly divorced, your child may ask you to explain if your estranged husband [or wife] still loves them. Munyua says such questions are usually a cry for reassurance.
Effects of divorce on kids will also depend on the situation before the divorce. According to psychologist Lydiah Maina, children who are already in problematic homes prior to the divorce usually suffer more. In contrast, children whose parents argued or fought behind closed doors will take the shortest time to adjust to the divorce or separation. The more intense and frequent arguments and fights between parents, the more the children are likely to experience psychological problems after divorce. The risks are even more enormous among children who witness physical and verbal fights, and children who are regularly the reason why parents fight. “The child may feel they were the cause of the divorce. Such a child will blame himself for the divorce, and could escape home to avoid being the source of conflict,” says Lydiah.
After divorce, parents may be too wrapped up in their own hurt and emptiness to think about how the divorce or separation is impacting the children. Similarly, they may find it customarily awkward and embarrassing to tell their children why they have opted to divorce. But according to Munyua, it is critical for parents to reassure their kids that the divorce or separation will not injure parental care, love, emotional, social, and physical development.
“You don’t have to stay together for the sake of the kids, especially when your emotional and physical wellbeing is at risk. This will build hate and spite. But you can choose an explanation that is comprehensible to the child about why the two of you can no longer be together as husband and wife,” says Munyua. You don’t have to disclose the intimate details of the divorce to your children. Also, avoid the temptation to mudsling one parent during the explanation.
Acknowledge that from time to time, juggling between two homes will weigh your child down. The child may also face emotional turmoil when a new partner is brought into the picture by either you or your former husband. Deal with your ex-partner in such a way that your children are immune to any possible future fall-outs and, or disputes between the two of you.
To begin with, try to discern the right time to open up, calmly, about your separation from your partner. Munyua says you should emphasise that the decision to stop living together was mutual. By putting the child first, you save them from the divorce fallouts that are characterised by custody battles and division of matrimonial property.
According to mental health specialist Dr. Kristen Fuller, it will be important for you to maintain the schedule your kids were used to even after your divorce. “Maintain the same schedule for meals, playtime, and after-school activities as much as possible. Keep a daily and weekly routine, set boundaries, and practice a discipline and reward system. This will help in keeping the children focused and out of trouble,” she says.
Effects of divorce on children
According to Munyua, some of the effects of a parents’ divorce on children include
- Loss and identity crisis: The child fails to establish her identity as she would with both parents as the contribution of one parent to her development is cut.
- Depression: This might be exhibited through a lack of appetite, sleep disturbances like waking with a start deep in the night.
- Emotional imbalance: Includes unexplainable anxiety, worry, irritability, and incessant crying.
- Behavioral deficiencies: The child becomes rebellious, too aggressive towards siblings, friends, or even classmates.
- Poor academic performance: The child’s showing in school regresses. She also begins to have discipline troubles.
- Relationship problems: In adulthood, the young one might have more dating, courting, or marital relationship problems.
Helping your child cope
- Get involved: Participate in your child's development, ensuring that she or he understands that you are still his/ her parent. If your child is older, she may need to know why you had to divorce. However, even as you explain, observe ethics by resisting the urge to go into details and, or portray your ex-partner in a bad light.
- Show your child love and affection: Most children believe that they are the cause of their parents' separation and need to hear from you, clearly, that they are not the reason why you had to divorce.
- Keep and follow a routine: Your child will feel more secure if there is a standard routine around her. For instance, keep the bedtime as you did previously or have some consistent chores for them.
- Respect your ex-partner: Note that it is the both of you who have divorced and not your child and her father. If possible, maintain respect for him, aware that he matters in a large way to the child.