Kronlage: Helping children through divorce

By James Kronlage

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The separation and divorce process triggers several tendencies within children, often igniting strong emotional reactions and erroneous perceptions from them. It is important as a parent to not only be aware of these tendencies, but to anticipate and respond to them effectively.

One tendency is for children to experience guilt brought on by the erroneous belief that they are responsible for their parents’ separation. Children may recall many things that they have done in the past to upset their parents and feel responsible for their separation. It is important for children to relinquish any feelings of self blame.

A second tendency is for children to fantasize about their parents’ reunification. Clinging to this fantasy creates false hope and distances children from reality. This fantasy can also make children emotionally unavailable in other relationships that have positive things to offer. It is important for parents to be honest with their children about the permanence of their separation.

A third tendency is for children to blame one parent for the family rupture or split positive and negative attributes between their parents. Helping children understand that no parent is all good or all bad or to blame for the family breaking up is positive. Children are products of, and identified with, both their parents. Each parent has something to offer a child that the child could learn from.

A fourth tendency is for children to feel insecure in the midst of a divorce or separation. Helping your children to feel safe is important. Realize as a parent that your children may temporarily be very anxious over the smallest changes in their life. Little things may be very upsetting and they need constant reassurance that their parents will keep them safe and secure.

A further tendency is for children to feel a loss of control in their life. Parents and other adults are making decisions about their life and things may be changing rapidly. As a result, children may feel they have lost a sense of control over their life. Parents can assist in this area by helping their children think of ways in which they still have control of their life and decisions they can still make. Children being assisted to concentrate their energy on these things and areas, where they can make a difference, are helpful.

Lastly, throughout the process of divorce and separation, it is important as a parent to help your children express their feelings. When children go through divorce, their most common feelings are sadness, anger, hurt, relief, fear, confusion, loss, worry and embarrassment.

Children often have difficulty in letting their parents know what their feelings are. Children may throw tantrums about many things. It is important for parents to help their children understand that anger is a normal reaction to a painful loss.

Parents can assist children in channeling their anger in a constructive fashion. Parents can help their children to recognize and express their feelings when they occur, rather than try to deny or keep them bottled up inside.

James Kronlage, DCSW, LCSW, ACSW is a counselor with Albemarle Counseling Group, 335-2018