Ever wonder what the child’s experience of divorce may be? It is important to remember, behavior speak and at times, louder than words.
This is particularly true at times of exchange. This is when kids may be exposed to the nastiest of behaviour between the parents. From the child’s point of view, these times are fraught with fear. They worry about the harm, physical or emotional, a parent may wreak on the other; they worry about their having to intervene to keep things safe, yet not having the skills to do so; they worry about feeling like a failure for not keeping things safe; and they can feel like the cause of the whole mess given the parents fight is directly linked to their need for exchange.
In addition to times of exchange, the high conflict court battle also wreaks havoc on kids. As the parents are anywhere from distracted to engrossed in their dispute, the child lives the ongoing tension and experiences their parents’ lack of emotional availability. This leaves kids feeling alone and scared. Kids in these predicaments can experience anxiety and/or depression. It can come out as withdrawal. agitation. or aggression. Even infants can feel and respond to such tension, as shown in feeding and sleep problems, or in the toddler as toileting issues and aggression, and in the school age child as behaviour akin to ADHD.
Although less common in kids younger than tweens, tweens and teens may express an overt desire for their parents to separate while holding a covert desire for them to work things out to be an intact peaceful family. This leaves kids of these ages with the belief they cannot express their true upsets, which in turn may be carried into their later intimate relationships.
Truth is, parental separation/divorce is scary and unsettling for kids. They may swallow their feelings believing the adults don’t have the time or inclination to deal with their issues, or believing they must withhold their issues to spare their already distraught parents. The best help for kids is actually the parents getting help for themselves. As parents get help for themselves, they progress to a better position to manage the separation and support their kids. Kids would much prefer the support of their parents than that of any counsellor. Parents still matter most, and anything that interferes with their relationship with parents is nasty.