When Children of Divorce Act Out – Caring Parents Step Up!
Divorce, like life, is rarely neat and packaged. This is especially true for divorcing parents. The reality of divorce comes with unexpected twists, constant frustrations and times of utter helplessness when children act up or pull away.
Here are three tips for coping with times when your children are venting, lashing out or expressing their own frustrations about being caught up in a family adjusting to separation or divorce.
Some children, especially pre-teens and teens, may blame one parent or the other for the divorce. Sometimes they may be correct in this interpretation given circumstances they have been aware of for years (alcoholism, absent parent, domestic violence, etc.). Other times they side with one parent as a result of their prior relationship dynamics with that parent. Regardless of why you or your spouse is being blamed, keep your cool. In many cases blaming is a defense against feeling overwhelmed by the circumstances in your child's life. Suddenly there are so many changes in such a short period of time. Often this behavior is not meant against you personally. It is merely a child's way of coping. When you keep this in mind it is easier to not personalize the outbursts and accusations. Patiently remind your child that you understand their frustrations. Acknowledge they have a sincere right to feel that way. Tell them how much you love them and how much you regret their hurt and pain. Let them know this was a difficult decision for both parents yet one you feel is the best alternative for your family's future happiness and well-being. Be patient and consistent. And don't internalize a child's expressions of frustration as a lack of love for you as a parent.
Often, negative comments from your children are expressions of distress and not criticism. Children want and need encouragement, support, and security during times of stress and change. If their needs are not being met because one or both parents are too caught up in their own hurt and drama, it is not surprising to hear negative comments and outbursts. When you realize that this is a call for attention, recognition and the emotional healing that you can provide, you can move into action. This is the time to reinforce your comments about the key messages every child needs to hear. They include: You are safe. You are loved by Mom and Dad. You will not lose Mom or Dad. You are not to blame for the divorce. Although change can be challenging, everything will work out okay.
In many ways divorce is like death. Sometimes the best thing you can do is fully be there for your children and understand what they are going through from their perspective. Talk if they want to talk. Hug and cuddle if they respond to affection. Continue as many family routine activities as possible on a day-to-day basis. Be honest and sincere when you are upset or frustrated by changes in your family life - and let them express their frustrations, as well. Most importantly, accept and acknowledge whatever they share with you as okay for them to feel. Try to put yourself into the mind-set of your six, ten or fifteen year old and experience the world from their viewpoint. It will help you be more empathic, less judgmental and more open to really "hearing" what they have to say.
This is what creating a "child-centered" divorce is all about. Let your children's emotional and physical needs be at the forefront of your mind when making life-altering decisions related to separation or divorce. Parents who consciously create a "child-centered" divorce have their radar constantly on. They're attuned to subtle changes in their children's behavior before that evolves into overwhelming challenges. Their children know and feel that they count and are a vital part of the family dynamic - even if it is evolving into a different form. These children are less fearful and more likely to move on with their lives into the future with confidence and high self-esteem. Isn't that what you want for your children?
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© Rosalind Sedacca 2008. All rights reserved.