Certainly every divorced parent worries about this, but how do you know the warning signs? After all, it’s rare the child will identify the source of their distress all on their own and comment upon it specifically. No, more to the point, we must infer distress from behaviour.
Before assessing the child however, it is good for parents to take an inventory of their own feelings and how they are coping. As parents are distracted by their concerns and feelings, it may be that the parent is more irritable and perhaps less emotionally available to attune to and meet the needs of their own kids, even if apparently fighting on their behalf.
So before concerning oneself about the impact of the divorce on the kids, please be aware of how you are doing and seek to manage that as effectively as possible, so your own issues do not trickle down to the kids.
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As for the kids, so much depends upon the age.
Infants and toddlers can be affected by parental divorce. They may be subject to intense parental feelings, changes of routine, missed or late feedings or diaper changes. Signs to look out for are eating and/or sleeping problems; crankiness/irritability; loose or runny stools or conversely, constipation; inconsolability; clinginess or alternately, withdrawal; and diaper rash.
Similar issues can bee seen in preschool and even school-aged children as well as: fears/anxiety; nightmares; tearfulness; moodiness; bullying and/or victimization; headaches and/or stomachaches.
As for the school-aged child to preteen, this list continues to include unwillingness to have friends to the home; seeking to be away from home more often; oppositional behaviour; and voicing opinions on matters affecting them.
Teenagers may show a number of similar issues and may also seek solace in the company of their friends; some will engage in early onset sexual behaviour and others may be ripe to experiment with drugs and/or alcohol. You may see signs of anxiety or depression.
The challenge in all children’s behaviour is to understand that punishment, consequences and the like, while perhaps helpful, will not address the underlying issue if the real matter is adjustment to the parental separation or exposure to ongoing parental conflict.
Very often, neither one parent is to blame, but rather the change, the parents’ joint management of change, and the dynamic between them that can give rise to this short list of issues. For any concerns arising about these warning signs, speak to a counsellor. Your lawyer should know several counsellors in your area if a referral is required.