Many people assume that children of divorce are resilient and will quickly bounce back after the dissolution of their parents’ marriage. However, studies have shown that divorce causes long-lasting effects on children, no matter what age children are when the divorce occurs. When you know these effects, you can take action to minimize the damage. A qualified Christian counselor can also help you navigate the common effects divorce has on children.
Children of Divorce: How it Affects the Kids
Children are often times not equipped to handle the sudden changes divorce brings to their lives. They simply do not possess the cognitive skills to handle all the hurt, pain, confusion and sorrow that results from a permanent separation. Since they are typically unable to communicate their deepest concerns, their pent-up feelings can cause psychosomatic symptoms in their bodies.
Likewise, a child who shows signs of eating disorders, substance abuse, depression, or self-harm could be suffering from the aftereffects of divorce. It’s essential to get professional help for these problems before the child’s overall health and wellness begin to negatively and catastrophically interfere with their daily lives. A trained Christian counselor can help your child identify the root causes of any physical symptoms and find solutions through talk therapy.
Divorce instills a fear of abandonment in a child’s heart. Your child may fear that since a parent is no longer in his or her life every day, other people are likely to leave as well. You may notice clinginess in younger children or resistance to making the switch between you and your ex-spouse’s home.Alternately, you may notice withdrawal or apathy in your child, which are self-protective measures to guard against getting hurt again. You can alleviate your child’s fears by keeping schedules as consistent as possible and following through on the promises you make. No matter your child’s age, he or she can benefit from speaking to a mental health professional. The counselor can help your child identify their fears and handle them in appropriate ways.
Lack of Trust
Children are hardwired to trust their parents. But divorce shakes a child’s trust to the core. Since a child loses trust in one or both parents after divorce, he or she can also suffer from spiritual distrust in God. Many children secretly reason, “If God is all-powerful, why didn’t he stop my parents from getting divorced?”
Due to a limited understanding of your family situation, your child may make false assumptions that carry over into decades of distrust. You can help remedy this with open conversations about God’s unchanging nature. Let your child honestly explore feelings of doubt, since repression may lead to more distrust. A Christian counselor can help your child take steps to rebuild trust in you, your ex-spouse, and God.
Since every child’s deepest wish is for parents to stay together, anger is an inevitable result of divorce. Your child is cast into an unwanted situation, which creates hurt, frustration and resentment. It’s essential that you help your child address the anger surrounding the divorce.Children of divorce who do not learn to process their anger can suffer for decades. Some internalize their feelings, blaming themselves for the divorce. This dynamic can result in depression and in extreme cases, suicidal thoughts.
Others leak out anger in passive ways because they do not feel confident enough to openly express their anger over the divorce. Many others explode in tantrums or fits of rage, letting their anger boil over in non-related situations. To effectively process anger from divorce, your child needs help from a qualified therapist who will show them how to identify and handle triggers without hurting themselves or others.
Sadness is an essential part of the grieving process after children are affected by divorce. While sadness is meant to be a temporary part of the grief cycle, some children get stuck in the phase of grief. Their relationships with family and friends may suffer, and you may notice declining performance at school or in sports.
As a parent, you can help by practicing good listening skills. Ask thoughtful questions without pressuring your child. Hold your child when he or she needs to cry. Pay attention to cues of depression, including isolation, sleeping too much or too little, erratic behavior, and withdrawing from normally enjoyable activities. Be sure to call a counselor if you see any of these warning signs.
It’s no secret that loneliness is an epidemic in our time-pressed society. But children of divorce are particularly at risk for loneliness. They may feel like few understand their unique hurts and frustrations, and they may not feel comfortable expressing their true feelings even to people they love.
These misunderstandings can lead to intense feelings of loneliness. To ease your child’s loneliness, set regular rhythms for family time together. Studies show that families who eat dinner together and talk over their days experience greater emotional health. Reserve time on the weekends to make quality connections with your child.
Be sure to include fun activities where your child can feel free to simply enjoy life, rather than deal with the pressure of divorce. Help your child connect with extended family members, neighbors, church members, and peers to reduce loneliness.
How You Can Help Your Child
The best thing a parent can do to help a child after divorce is to be actively present. Your child needs you now more than ever. A child seeks stability and predictability from his or her parent. Do everything possible to create a schedule that favors your child’s well-being.
Don’t try to be your child’s friend, or shower your child with gifts due to guilt after your divorce. Your child still needs you to set appropriate boundaries and serve as a trustworthy parent in their life.
You need to manage your own hurts, fears, and frustrations from your divorce first so you can be of service to your child. When you take care of your own needs, you will be in a better position to help your child successfully navigate the fallout after divorce.
Christian Counseling for Children of Divorce
Divorce has such far-reaching consequences for children that few parents can manage their children’s needs along with their own needs. Many divorced families benefit from Christian counseling after divorce.
A Christian counselor is equipped to help you and your child overcome the challenges after divorce affects your family. You can heal from the aftereffects of divorce quickly with a counselor’s help, and your child will be healthier as well as they learn to process through their emotions.
Please give us a call if you have recently been divorced and are concerned about your child’s well-being. At Seattle Christian Counseling, our staff is ready and waiting to assist you in the healing process.
Photos courtesy of Leah Elliott, copyright 2019, all rights reserved