Up to 25% of children whose parents divorce have emotional and behavioral difficulties, as compared to 10% of children from intact homes. How do you know if your child is one of the 25% — and how do you help him? Learn the warning signs. According to The American Association For Marriage and Family Therapy, signs of emotional distress in divorced children include:
– Acting younger than their chronological age,
– Exhibiting fear of being apart from parent(s) (separation anxiety),
– Acting out,
– Sadness and depression,
– Sleep or eating problems,
– Changes in personality (i.e., an otherwise outgoing child suddenly becomes withdrawn),
– Academic and peer problems, and
– Irrational fears and compulsive behavior.
In addition to these behaviors, the child may demonstrate more general symptoms of depression in children, which may include the following:
– Irritability or anger,
– Continuous feelings of sadness and hopelessness,
– Social withdrawal,
– Increased sensitivity to rejection,
– Changes in appetite — either increased or decreased,
– Changes in sleep — sleeplessness or excessive sleep,
– Vocal outbursts or crying,
– Difficulty concentrating,
– Fatigue and low energy,
– Physical complaints (such as stomachaches, headaches) that don’t respond to treatment,
– Feelings of worthlessness or guilt,
– Impaired thinking or concentration,
– Thoughts of death or suicide, and
– Reduced ability to function during events and activities at home or with friends, in school, extracurricular activities, and in other hobbies or interests.
How Conflict Affects Children
While a therapist can support a child undergoing divorce, there are many things you as a parent can do to reduce tension and set up a positive co-parenting relationship so your child can stay emotionally healthy. Studies have shown that it’s not so much divorce that hurts children than it is the level of conflict. A child’s depression may improve after divorce IF conflict lessens and parents become more psychologically available.
Here are three things you can do to protect your child from depression and other behavioral issues.
1. Stay out of court if possible. Family court is sure to provide answers, but not always justice. Litigation invites a lot of cooks – judges, custody evaluators, guardian ad litems — into the divorce kitchen. The more family law professionals you have in your case, the more paperwork, expense, and stress you will generate. Prolonging the duration and expense of your divorce will inevitably increase conflict that is likely to spill over onto the children. Most matters can be settled out of court. Choosing mediation or collaborative divorce can help speed the divorce process and lessen the conflict.
2. Focus on the needs of your child. Warring exes tend to make themselves the center of their divorce. They forget that they are also part of the problem and assume their feelings about the other parent are the absolute truth. The anger and resentment that results from this lopsided thinking can take priority over the needs of the children. Angry exes must learn to make their children’s needs more important than punishing the other parent. Seeing a divorce therapist – with or without your ex – can help you learn techniques to shift the focus from your former spouse to your children.
3. Focus on your own mental health. If you’re depressed, you will have a harder time caring for your children. Studies show that children are better-adjusted when their parents are in good mental health and can provide adequate affection, supervision, and limit-setting. If you find that your divorce is impairing your child-rearing abilities, it’s time to seek help! Consider seeing a therapist, visiting a psychiatrist for a trial of medication, practicing mindfulness, and maintaining your support network.
Remember: the best thing you can do for your children are to reduce the conflict between you and your ex. The more amicable you can be, the more likely it is that your child will work through his feelings of sadness and loss and go on to have a healthy, productive childhood.
Need help reducing the legal stress of divorce? Our Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group, LLC attorneys are here to help. Please contact us to schedule your initial confidential consultation.