There are no kids who grow up with perfect parents. Even if you’re lucky enough to get two parents who love each other and are committed to the marriage, there are still going to be times when things don’t go well between them. Like any marriage, it is inevitable that there will be periods where they disagree or fight, and these disagreements can sometimes get out of hand and lead to separation.
When a child is caught in the middle of this situation, it can be very hard for them to understand what is going on and why. Not only will it make things difficult and confusing for the child, but also leave a lasting impact on them.
How does parental separation affect a child?
The effects of separation on a child can be wide-ranging and while these may not always be obvious, they can have a big impact on the child’s development. The consequences may also vary depending on factors like the age of the child during separation, the reason for the separation, and whether there is parental conflict during and after the separation.
This means that some separations may have a more devastating effect on a child than others, with parents who are committed to their children’s well-being able to minimize the negative effects of separation compared to when one parent goes to jail and the other decides to leave their children behind.
Parents who separate due to incarceration or abuse can have a particularly strong effect on their children since the separation can affect how they view relationships and trust others in the future. It is already bad enough when one parent goes to jail, but when the other decides to separate and divorce because of incarceration, the effect can be even worse.
Regardless of the circumstances, parental separations are never easy, and the effects of parental separation can be long-lasting. Some of the most common effects that a child may experience include:
- Lower self-esteem
- Feelings of abandonment and rejection
- Anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues
- Complicated relationships with friends and partners in the future
- Poor academic performance
- Increased risk of drug and alcohol abuse
What are some strategies to help kids cope with parental separation?
To cope with the change, it is important to have the right strategies and support network. Especially during the early stages, a solid support system can be very helpful in helping children get the better of themselves while also minimizing the negative effects of parental separation. Fortunately, there are various strategies that can help children cope with this adversity, and below are some of the most common ways.
Encourage honest communication.
While it is important to encourage children to talk about their feelings and concerns, it is equally important that they do so in an environment where they feel safe and secure. Parents should make sure that the child feels comfortable enough to express themselves without fear of being judged or ridiculed. It’s also important to listen carefully when they do talk and to respond with compassion and understanding. The more you can give them the space to be open and honest, the more likely they will be to confide in you when they’re feeling overwhelmed.
Acknowledge the emotions.
It’s important that children feel heard when they talk about their feelings, but it is equally important that parents acknowledge those feelings. Simply sugarcoating the situation can make children feel as though they are being dismissed, which will only make them feel more isolated and alone. Instead, parents should acknowledge and validate those emotions, and offer them reassurance that they are not alone. This can help children feel more secure and help them to develop healthy coping skills.
Stick to a regular routine.
Regular routines offer children a sense of security and help them feel like they know what to expect. If there are going to be any changes, guardians should try to keep them as consistent as possible so children don’t feel overwhelmed by too many variables. And if they know what’s coming next, they’ll be able to focus on getting through each day instead of worrying about what might happen tomorrow or next week.
Spend quality time with them.
Children who feel like they’re loved and valued are more likely to cope better with stress. Spending time with children, whether it’s a casual chat or an actual date night, can help them feel important and that their needs are being met. It generally doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you’re doing something that allows you to connect with your child with your full and undivided attention. Not only will this make them feel loved, but it will also let them know that they can rely on you when they need help.
Help them find an outlet.
When a child’s parents split up, the child is likely to go through a period of extreme stress and confusion. This makes it important that the child finds an outlet for their emotions and frustrations without being overwhelmed by them. The best thing you can do is help your child find an activity or hobby that they enjoy. This can be anything from a sport to an extracurricular activity or volunteer opportunity. Just make sure it’s something that will help them feel good about themselves and give them the chance to express their emotions in a healthy way.
Seek professional help.
If you are especially concerned about your child’s symptoms of depression, or behavior, or if you have tried a handful of approaches and they haven’t helped, it may be time to seek professional help.
Even if you only have questions about how to talk to your child about separation, seeking advice from a therapist who specializes in children’s mental health issues can be helpful. A therapist can help you learn the best way to talk with your child about separation and divorce, as well as offer other advice on how to support them during this difficult time.
Parental separation is a difficult, but not impossible, situation to navigate. Especially with a good plan of action that includes your child’s needs and emotions, you can help them through this tough time. And while parental separation is a dreadful experience for any child, it’s important to remember that negative experiences don’t have to be all bad since they can also build character and strengthen relationships.
Above article is a Guest Post by Katie Pierce.