When is Daddy Coming Home?
When parents get divorced, it is difficult for kids of any age. Young children are most at risk of developing anxiety and depression, primarily because they are not old enough to understand the reasons behind their parents’ decision to get a divorce. How parents help their children cope with their divorce will play a key role in how the children react to the situation, both at the time and as they grow up.
What to Say
Parents, of course, will be anxious about delivering this news to their children, but there are ways to soften the blow when a child first hears the news. Try the following:
- First and foremost, be honest. Your children are entitled to know why this is happening. Long-winded answers can be confusing, so just be brief and tell the truth. Don’t blame the other parent for the divorce.
- Say, “I love you.” Letting your kids know that the divorce will not change your love for them goes a long way. You might tell them that sometimes parents and children don’t get along, but they still love each other and don’t get divorced.
- Let them know you will always be there for them. Let them ask questions if they want to do so, and answer them in terms that are as simple to understand as possible. Make sure they understand that you are always a phone call away.
How Your Children May React
No matter what you say, your children are sure to be upset and confused. They may wonder what they did to cause the situation. Ruminating about this thought can result in the development of anxiety or depression in kids. They may become withdrawn, worrying that anything they do might make the situation worse. They may also become anxious, afraid that their past behavior may have caused the divorce, and that their current behavior is only reinforcing a bad situation.
Having patience with your kids’ reactions, providing reassurance and always being willing to listen are three ways that you can help your children cope better when adjusting to a divorce. Providing routine and structure that your children can count on will help them feel more stable when going through an upsetting time.
Most of all, present a united front. Even though you are getting a divorce because you most likely can’t get along anymore, go out of your way to show your children that you do not hate each other. Don’t argue in front of them. Only discuss childcare differences when they aren’t around. Children are already feeling the pains of a splintered home. Being subjected to parental discord in person would only reinforce the problems kids face when coping with the situation.
What Can Happen?
Despite your best efforts, children can sometimes be unable to cope effectively with the divorce, and they may bring negative feelings about the experience into adulthood. Holding onto such feelings for so long only reinforce the traumatic event they experienced as young children. This can lead to long-term depression and anxiety.
When a parent can recognize that their kids need help developing coping skills, it’s best for them to get their children into therapy. The earlier that children sort out their feelings and come to terms with a divorce, the less likely they will be to face possibly lifelong after-effects that may affect their own ability to have a healthy relationship.