No one gets into a relationship expecting it to end in the acrimonious way most marriages end. Divorce is incredibly painful for all parties involved. Even so, divorce has largely been positive in the lives of women, allowing them to leave difficult, sometimes outrightly deplorable marriages. Children, however, are the proverbial grass that gets caught in the crossfire when two adult cows throw down.
Statistically, children are better of emotionally, physically, and mentally when their parents stay together except when there is any kind of abuse. However, because people are flawed and this is not always possible, parents and children are forced to adapt to new circumstances occasioned by divorce. Here are some signs to look out for that can signal how well your child or children are coping with the new family dynamic. It’s important to remember that since children vary in ages and temperament the effects of divorce may vary as well.
1. Regression and developmental delays
This is most commonly seen in younger children. For example, a child who was potty-trained begins wetting their bed at night or having accidents. They may resume sucking their thumb or some other childish behaviour they had already stopped. This is a sign that they are not coping well.
If a child was reaching their milestones normally then begins to exhibit delays, there is a problem and you should consult a paediatrician for assessment.
2. Poor performance in academics
Divorce has the effect of destabilizing children as everything that was previously a certainty is upended and they are dealing with a lot of uncertainty. The more distracted children are the less likely they are to focus on their school work. This then becomes a key indicator that they are not coping well with the divorce. Statistically, children of divorce face a higher dropout rate compared to their peers.
3. Loss of interest in social activity or social withdrawal
You may notice that a child who was once outgoing has become shy and fearful of social situations. Children whose families are going through a divorce may feel that theirs is the only different family which leads to them distancing themselves from others and having a harder time relating to them.
4. Emotionally sensitive and needy behaviour
Divorce brings up a mix of emotions including sadness, anger, confusion, anxiety, guilt, and more which can leave children feeling emotionally overwhelmed and sensitive. Because children cannot express themselves adequately with words, their behaviour communicates for them. Neediness is normal and a child may cry more frequently, but if the neediness becomes extreme in a way that is disruptive to daily life, there is a problem that needs to be addressed.
Children will understandably be angry. Their entire lives are changing, they may not fully understand why and they have no control or input one way or another over events as they play out. These feelings arise from feelings of abandonment and loss of control. They may display anger at themselves, their parents, siblings, or others. Children do not know how to express all these feelings and may end up acting out.
If the child starts fighting with other children and is aggressive showing anger and rage with peers, they are not coping well especially if this was not the case before. Parents should not ignore this especially if it persists.
Other concerning behaviours include a resurgence and an increase in temper tantrums for younger children. Older children, such as teens, may have emotional outbursts characterized by screaming, yelling, obstinacy, and a lack of rational thought when in this state.
6. Feelings of guilt
Children will wonder why the divorce is happening in their family and can begin to make connections that lead back to them, assigning blame to themselves. These feelings of guilt are exceedingly common among children of divorce and should not be ignored because guilt can lead to depression, stress, and a host of other related problems. Mental Health: How To Spot Depression In Loved Ones
7. Introduction of destructive behaviour
Children of divorce, especially teenagers who are already prone to rebelling may take it a step further engaging in risky and destructive behaviour. Research shows that children who have experienced divorce are more likely to participate in crimes and rebel through other destructive behaviour with the potential of harming their health. Teenagers may start using drugs or run away from home. These are cries for help that should be met with love, care, and a desire and willingness to get them the help they need.
8. Increase in health problems
Children who have experienced divorce can develop eating problems. Teens can develop eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia while for younger children it can manifest as avoidance of food or extreme picky eating habits. This can be one of the most dangerous side effects of divorce on children. Health: Common Types Of Eating Disorders And Why It Matters
Another is sleep issues. Children of divorce can experience insomnia or have periods where they sleep too much if they become depressed.
9. Loss of faith in marriage and the family unit
Research shows that children who have experienced divorce are also more likely to divorce whenever they get married. This propensity to divorce maybe two to three times as high as that of children who come from non-divorced families.
It’s important to remember that children are resilient and with assistance, the divorce transition can be experienced as an adjustment rather than a crisis. Talk to your children about the divorce, making it clear that it is not their fault.
Don’t speak ill of your spouse in the presence of the children and definitely do not place them in the middle of any issues you’re having. Be friendly and cordial when speaking to each other and try as much as possible to maintain some calm throughout the process.
If any of the issues indicating that they are not coping well present, get help from a professional including the paediatrician or a psychologist.