Divorce is tough on everyone in the family. Parents are dealing with their own emotional issues. Maybe one spouse was cheating; perhaps one or both of the partners have been financially irresponsible and must now face the prospect of each having to support a household; there may have been a conflict over career demands. Read on further for the 7 Mistakes That Affects Your Child’s Mental Health During the Divorce.
Now you are divorcing, and there are kids in the middle of all of this. It doesn’t matter what their age. They are facing a big change, a sense of insecurity, and uncertainty about their futures. Research shows that kids can develop health issues during and after a divorce, that their school performance can suffer, that they may have more behavioral issues, and, yes, they will most likely experience emotional and psychological challenges.
Parents do make mistakes during a divorce, and these can have an impact on their children’s mental health. Here are seven of those mistakes that you should avoid.
1.Not Being Attuned to Your Child’s Emotional Distress
One of the things that can happen during a divorce is that we can become rather self-absorbed. We are focused on getting through the ordeal, the issues and details we face, and how to move forward once it is over. It’s easy to overlook signs of distress in your child because you are so preoccupied. You go through your daily routine as normal with your child. You get him off to school, you get him to soccer practice, and you see that he keeps the routines of meals, homework, etc. In doing these things, you think that he will believe his life will not change. But this is often inner turmoil that you are not picking up on.
It’s important to check in with your child frequently during these times. Ensure they know that they can express themselves safely, even if that means sharing that they are angry, upset, or frustrated.
2.Arguing with Your Soon-to-Be Ex in Person or on the Phone.
There may be conflicts during the divorce, such as arguments over the division of debt and assets or support payments. If you engage in arguments with your spouse in front of or in earshot of your child, it causes stress and anxiety. Younger children even become frightened. Older kids can lose respect for their parents and become disrespectful to them.
If things are too contentious, there are some things you can do to maintain peaceful communication with your spouse:
- Consider mediation or post-divorce counseling to help resolve ongoing issues.
- Create a communication plan that will reduce conflict, such as relying on emails instead of phone calls.
- Commit to staying out of one another’s personal lives, and allowing each to have undisturbed parenting time.
- If attempts at co-parenting are leading to arguments, consider adopting parallel parenting as an alternative.
3.Phone Conversations with Your Attorney within Earshot
You never know what might come up in a conversation with your attorney. If your conversation addresses his cheating, how broke you might be right now, how you may have to sell the house and move, and other negative aspects of this divorce, your child can become frightened and stressed.
Is this really how you want to tell your child that money is a problem or that he might have to move out of the only home, neighborhood, and school he has ever known? Conversations with your lawyer should take place in private. If they have to be by phone, then go to an isolated place for that call.
4.Bad-Mouthing Your Ex to Visiting Friends
One of the biggest emotional challenges that kids have during the divorce is the conflict they feel between loyalty to mom and/or dad. You have friends who will visit you in your home. They want to give you support. And that support can often be in the form of conversations that bad-mouth your soon-to-be-ex, agreeing with you about all of his faults and how he has “done you wrong.”
If your child hears all of this, he becomes more emotionally conflicted. He may have had a loving and good relationship with his dad, but now he hears you saying horrible things about him. Should he believe you? Should he dislike the father he has known out of loyalty to you? This is a position your child should never have to face.
In addition to managing your own words, you may need to set boundaries with friends and family members. Let them know that while you appreciate their support and understand their anger, speaking disrespectfully about your child’s father isn’t acceptable.
5.Poisoning Your Child’s View of His Father
Here’s a typical situation. Money is tight. Registration fees are coming due for a sports activity your child has always been involved in. You can’t come up with the money. Here’s a common statement. “If your father would just step up, I could get you registered. But he is being horrible right now and won’t give me the money to do this. Blame him if you can’t play baseball this spring!” Or here’s another. “If your father had not cheated on me with that woman, we’d still be a family. He ruined everything!” And another. “Your father’s gambling and spending all of his time drinking at bars is why we are divorcing. He’s ruined everything for us.”
This behavior almost always backfires. But worse than that, it impacts your child in damaging ways. He is emotionally torn, trying to figure out where his loyalty should lie. He is conflicted and is in distress. How does he walk a “tightrope” between mother and father? And if the father is doing the same, the stress escalates further.
This one is difficult to navigate. Being the parent who says no, but can’t reveal the reason why is tough. Your child may believe that you are being mean, or that you don’t care about something that is important to them. Rather than expressing blame and anger, you can simply explain that there have been some minor financial changes. Ensure your child that things will be okay, and suggest an alternative activity if possible.
6.Engaging in Self-Destructive Behaviors
Not eating or overeating is a common response to the divorce process. And lack of sleep can be a common issue too. Other destructive behaviors may include drinking too much, engaging in excessive socializing, overspending, isolation, and even rageful events. All of these will impact your child in negative ways. He sees a woman who is no longer the mom he knew, and that can be frightening.
Instead of using unhealthy coping mechanisms, model positive behavior and self-care. Let your child see you engaging in positive activities such as going on walks, meditating, and inviting friends over for movie night. You’ll see improvements in your mental health, and show your child how to cope with stressful events productively.
7.Ignoring Your Child’s Behavioral Changes
A certain amount of behavioral change is to be expected. Once children learn their parents are divorcing, they worry about the changes that may be coming. That worry can cause some behavioral changes, possibly longer periods of quiet or more time spent in his room. The opposite can also be true. Some children become angry and take it out on you. That anger is usually the result of fear. Others begin to act out at school.
Recognizing these changes early on and dealing with them is important. What your child needs more than anything else is your reassurance and empathy. Put yourself in his shoes and see the situation from his perspective. His life is turned upside down right now, and his aberrant behaviors are the result. You must spend more time with your child, showing him how that both you and your ex love him and that you both will continue to love him, spend time with him, and see that his life will continue to be as “normal” as possible.
If the behavior continues or escalates in any way, it will be time to get some outside help. Getting counseling for your child may be a good idea. He may open up more to an outside professional, once trust is established than he is willing to do with you or your ex. And it is important that you share the divorce information with school personnel, specifically his teacher, the counselor, and the principal. They have plenty of experience with these situations.
There is no doubt that children who go through a divorce experience emotional issues. These can range from temporary and mild to more severe and in need of professional help. You can reduce the impact on your child’s mental health if you stay aware and avoid the seven mistakes detailed above. Your child’s mental health is more important than any issues you may be having with your ex. Keep your child as insulated from these issues as much as possible.
Author Bio: Jessica Fenderis an author and blogger who writes on all topics of contemporary interest. As a single divorced mom, she brings personal experience to this topic. Currently, Jessica contributes to OKDissertations.