The Impact of Divorce on Young Children and Adolescents

Divorce introduces a massive change into the life of a boy or girl no matter what the age. Witnessing loss of love between parents, having parents break their marriage commitment, adjusting to going back and forth between two different households, and the daily absence of one parent while living with the other, all create a challenging new family circumstance in which to live. In the personal history of the boy or girl, parental divorce is a watershed event. Life that follows is significantly changed from how life was before.

When parents no longer love each other and decide to live apart, a child can feel as if their world has been turned upside down. The level of upset the child feels can vary depending on how their parents separated, the age of the child, how much they understand, and the support they get from parents, family and friends.

The following feelings are often made worse by the fact that many children have to move home and sometimes school when parents separate, and most families in this situation come under some financial strain, even if they did not have money worries before.

 A child may feel:
1. A sense of loss - separation from a parent can mean you lose not only your home, but your whole way of life
2. Different, with an unfamiliar family
3. Fearful about being left alone - if one parent can go, perhaps the other will do the same
4. Angry at one or both parents for the relationship breakdown
5. Worried about having caused the parental separation: guilty rejected and insecure

6. Torn between both parents.

Even if the parental relationship had been very tense or violent, children may still have mixed feelings about the separation. Many children hold onto a wish that their parents may get back together.

Whatever has gone wrong in the relationship, both parents still have a very important part to play in their child's life.

Emotional and behavioural problems in children are more common when their parents are fighting or separating.

Children can become very insecure.

Insecurity can cause children to behave like they are much younger and therefore bedwetting, 'clinginess', nightmares, worries or disobedience can all occur. This behaviour often happens before or after visits to the parent who is living apart from the family.

Teenagers may show their distress by misbehaving or withdrawing into themselves. They may find it difficult to concentrate at school.

For the young child, divorce shakes trust in dependency on parents who now behave in an extremely undependable way. They surgically divide the family unit into two different households between which the child must learn to transit back and forth, for a while creating unfamiliarity, instability, and insecurity, never being able to be with one parent without having to be apart from the other.

Parents who are separating can help their children. They should;
1. Make sure that the children know they still have two parents who love them, and will continue to care for them;
2. Protect their children from adult worries and responsibilities;
3. Make it clear that the responsibility for what is happening is the parents' - and not the childrens'.

These things will help your child;
1. Be open and talk. Your child not only needs to know what is going on, but needs to feel that it's Ok to ask questions.
2. Reassure them that they will still be loved and cared for by both parents.
3. Make time to spend with your child.
4. Be reliable about arrangements to see your child.
5. Show that you are interested in your child's views, but make it clear that parents are responsible for the decisions.
6. Carry on with the usual activities and routines, like seeing friends and members of the extended family.

Make as few changes as possible. This will help your child feel that, in spite of the difficulties, loved ones still care about them and that life can be reasonably normal.

Posted by: Lusubilo A. Mwaijengo

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