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Partner and Head of Family Law, Rugby
In my last blog post I looked at the ideal way in which parents should break the news of their divorce to their children. In this post I consider how children might react.
There could be a whole range of reactions to the news of the split and if parents can develop an understanding of their children’s needs they will be in a good position to help them. Some younger children’s behaviour may regress, they may become more tearful and clingy, others may act out becoming angry and frustrated at the slightest thing and lash out. Parents should try to remain patient and tolerant, explaining that they understand that the child is feeling frightened and sad but equally telling the child that any violent or destructive behaviour isn’t acceptable. Older children can also display anger or they may become very withdrawn, in severe cases they may engage in risky behaviours or take on too much responsibility, feeling that they have to look after the parent. Parents should try not to over-react but monitor the situation and seek professional support and advice if they feel the behaviour is escalating and not within the realms of a ‘normal’ response.
With regard to their own behaviour and their new relationship as separated parents, it is crucial to their children’s recovery that parents do their very best to maintain a civil relationship and develop the ability to communicate effectively about the needs of their children. Children do not want the job of postmen, delivering messages from one parent to another. Children do not want to be the keepers of secrets, being told, “…don’t tell your Father/Mother”. Children don’t want to be treated as possessions with parents wrangling over how often they see them. Children want to spend time with both parents doing ‘normal’ things – the greatest gift parents can give their child is their time.
It is imperative at this emotional time that parents find ways to look after themselves in order that they can care for and support their children. They need to identify friends and family who can offer support, finding other adults that they can share their anger, sadness and negative feelings about their ex with will help the recovery process and hopefully offer an appropriate emotional outlet for them. Children don’t need to be burdened with inappropriate adult information or Mum’s negative feelings about Dad or vice versa.
Having said all this, children are very resilient and can manage major change. Family breakdown itself need not be damaging to children if parents handle it well, continued parental conflict post separation is what damages children and that, unfortunately, is all too common.
My workshop, “Divorce Through The Eyes Of A Child”, gives parents an insight into family breakdown as children see it and invites them to review the relationship with their ex so they can judge what changes may need to be made.