You’ve told your children you’re getting a divorce, and you’re met with a number of reactions. Your oldest throws his chair, your middle child hangs her head and your toddler asks for a cookie. Similar to adults, kids may wrestle with reactions ranging from anger and self-esteem issues to emotional distress and rejection. Here’s how to handle these reactions and what you can do to achieve a more positive outcome.
Before you tell your children about your divorce, they may have been used to having access to you 24/7. In fact, your kids might have taken for granted the time you had to spend with them and support them. Since your relationship status is changing, your kids might also believe their relationship status with you is changing, leaving them to feel neglected, abandoned and rejected.
2. Emotional Distress
As a result of rejection, your child could feel stressed. In addition to her normal responsibilities – school, homework, chores and sports – your child must now navigate his or her changing family. Minimize distress by reassuring your child that you’ll always be there. Be flexible and understanding with your child’s time, since he or she has two households around which you must schedule holidays and other important events.
Experiencing emotional distress and feeling rejected can have a significant negative impact on your children’s self-esteem. Due to the perceived lack of support, your kids may feel unworthy or that the divorce is their fault. Prepare yourself for question such as, “Is this because I’m a bad child,” “Don’t you love me anymore,” “I’m a horrible person” or “My life is over.”
Combined, all of these issues could lead to anger, aggression and behavior problems. Your children may direct these negative behaviors and feelings directly toward you, their siblings, your ex or even a third party such as a new relationship. If your child exhibits anger or you notice signs of aggression, suggest counseling and offer to attend the sessions together. Although your child might want to talk about the divorce in a negative light, steer your conversations toward looking at the positive contributions that every family member makes – regardless of your marital status.
Familiarize yourself with each of the possible reactions you could face following your conversation, and practice with your ex so that you’re both prepared to promptly and successfully handle the situation. No matter how old they are, all children need time to adjust to divorce, and their reactions will vary greatly depending on their age.