While many “to have and to hold” vows last a lifetime, about as many survive only a fraction of that. Ending a marriage is often difficult and emotional for the couple. And navigating divorce when kids are involved can be exponentially more challenging. Revisiting an idea from a previous blog, The Calli Institute offers tips to positively process the split and help children adjust after their parents have called it quits.
Realistically, about half of all married couples in the U.S. wind up divorced. That number increases for subsequent marriages, with about 60 percent of second marriages and 70 percent of third marriages ending in divorce.
Additionally, some couples may enter into marriage at a young age and find that, as they get older, they have less in common with their spouse. Whatever the reasoning, each party deserves to be happy and should do what’s best to attain that happiness — even if that means ending their marriage.
Much like the rationale for divorce, the ways in which divorce affects children varies based on the child and the circumstances. Some kids may take a while to understand and process all the changes. Still others bounce back quickly and can more easily get into a new routine.
But just as their parents are affected by the breakup, children of divorcing parents likely will face extra challenges. Younger children sometimes have trouble adjusting to the new dynamic of two households. They may feel as though the divorce is somehow their fault. Teenagers can feel angry, hurt, or resentful toward their parents for splitting up the family.
Supportive parents can help their children recognize, address, and work through these sensitive hurdles.
Mental health issues. The risk of mental health issues is greater for children and adolescents whose parents are divorced or divorcing. In addition, these children experience higher rates of anxiety and depression.
Concerns at school. Divorce is a big change that can negatively affect children’s concentration and performance — or even friendships — at school.
Behavioral problems. Children of divorced parents may act out impulsively or have difficulty adhering to societal rules.
Divorce can be a confusing time, especially for younger kids and adolescents. That confusion can cause frustration, which may lead to internal and external conflict that manifests itself through adverse actions, attitude, and demeanor.
In times of difficulty, children often look to their parents for guidance. Fortunately, there are things parents can do to help their kids adjust and cope with divorce.
One of the biggest things parents can do is work together and peacefully co-parent their children. When parents bicker, that conflict upsets and affects children. Parents who can cooperate with one another set a positive example and help reduce the risk of resentment from their children.
In that same vein, parents who are consistent with rules and discipline are more likely to get a reasonable response from their kids. Setting boundaries and following through with consequences helps establish a set of values. And when both parents agree, children know what to expect and have a sense of stability.
Positive affirmation can also help children work through the challenges of divorce — and life. When kids are told they have the mental fortitude to recognize and deal with difficulty, they learn to build strong and sustainable problem-solving skills. Learning how to manage thoughts and behaviors at a young age also helps children develop healthy coping strategies throughout life.
Divorcing parents should also avoid using their children against the other spouse — or bad-mouthing the other spouse to or in front of the children. This can make kids feel as though they need to choose sides. And this familial tug-of-war can cause children to feel anxious and create feelings of resentment toward one parent or another.
Throughout the divorce and afterward, it’s important to maintain positive, open communication with children. This helps them adjust to all the changes. Additionally, honest rapport helps kids continue to build trust and develop higher self-esteem.
Some parents who consider divorce may want to stay together for the sake of the children. And while this may seem like a good idea, it may actually do more harm than good. Sometimes divorce can be beneficial and teach kids a host of life lessons, such as:
What’s more, kids can tell when something isn’t right. Oftentimes divorcing parents are bitter toward one another, and children sense that pressure at home. Their environment becomes tension-filled and uncomfortable, putting kids on edge and creating all kinds of anxiety.
When the parents are no longer under the same roof, the tension dissipates and allows kids to feel more relaxed, at ease, and free to be themselves. Children want to be loved. They want to feel safe. And sometimes divorce is what’s best for the sake of the kids.
When it comes to relationships, every situation is different. Every couple is different. Every child is different. And every breakup is different. With all those elements combined, navigating divorce when kids are involved can be a tricky deal. But we’re here to help. Along with these tips, The Calli Institute can offer additional guidance for helping children — and parents — adjust to the changes that come with divorce. Please reach out to us if you have questions or concerns or simply need someone to listen. That’s what we do.