How To Deal
Do whatever you can, within the constraints of the divorce itself, to give your child a stable environment. Your child is under siege from all the changes in his or her life. Anything you can do to minimize those changes, especially in the critical first few months after your separation, will ease your child’s anxiety.
There are many steps you can take to make your children’s lives easier while you go through divorce. Through the experience of mediating many families through this critical time of transition, we have developed 18 Key Steps to Helping Your Child Through the Divorce Process. Please contact us for a copy of these steps and to set up an initial assessment meeting to decide of Family and Divorce Mediation is the right step for your family during this transition.
Dealing with a Child’s Anger: The Problem
Children whose parents are divorcing have a great deal to be angry about. Just about every child going through divorce is an angry child. There may be exceptions, but not many.
Don’t take comfort that your child seems to be adjusting to your divorce without anger. Many children who portray a calm, even cheerful demeanor through divorce are seething inside, and they may later express their anger in destructive ways, like depression (the mental health professionals call this “anger turned inward”), substance abuse, and/or delinquency. In addition, repressed anger often shows up disguised as physical sickness. Watch for symptoms of this as well.
What to Do
Figure out ways that both you and your children can better understand anger. The first principle both of you needs to understand is that anger as a feeling is normal, appropriate, and healthy. Neither you nor your child should attempt to suppress angry feelings.
What both of you must do is to develop healthy ways of dealing with anger as behavior so that it doesn’t harm persons or property.
All of us can benefit from talking about our feelings more, particularly angry children.
The expression of anger by a child can be very hurtful and raw. Parents need to be able to handle these expressions without arguing with the child or reprimanding them for expressing themselves when we have encouraged their candor and honesty.
- Can you listen to your own child say “I’m angry with you” or “I hate you” without feeling a need to defend yourself?
- Can you listen to your own child say “I hate Daddy (Mommy) without jumping in to agree or disagree?
- Can you hear your child talk about how miserable he or she is without jumping in to fix it?
If you are not able to handle this type of expression of anger, consider therapy and family counseling to help your child or children work through the feelings to avoid bad behavior and to keep the lines of communications open between child and both parents.
The need to deal with anger constructively is particularly critical with absent fathers. This means that mothers must allow (sometimes force) access to fathers, and fathers must allow children to express their anger directly. If you’re an absent father, try to model for your child the constructive expression of anger by talking about your own anger (but not your anger toward your child’s mother) openly and honestly. It is imperative that children feel the freedom to express themselves to both parents during these times of transition and stress.
Anxiety: The Problem
Children of divorcing parents often struggle with anxiety. Anxiety comes about through feelings of abandonment, changes in living conditions, embarrassment, guilt, concern about additional separations, and a haunting fear of additional unknown trouble that must be lurking somewhere in the future.
You may notice physical symptoms of continuing anxiety, such as nausea, diarrhea, headaches, and dizziness, as well as (particularly in younger children) thumb sucking and bed-wetting. Children suffering from anxiety often become demanding or clingy, and they may pull back from pre-existing friendships with their peers.
What to Do
First, deal with your own perfectly normal feelings of anxiety with someone other than your child. Your child has enough problems to deal with without having to serve as your counselor or confidant. Don’t be afraid to ask your child to tell you about his or her fears, and be willing to listen to them – all of them.
Be willing to hear and respond to the same fear over and over. Just because you’ve explained before why you and the child are not going to have to leave this school district doesn’t mean the fear isn’t still there. Your child may need to express it again and hear your explanation again.
As you listen to your child, be realistic in responding to the fears he or she expresses. Whenever you can offer reassurance that a fear will not come true, do so, patiently, logically, and thoroughly.