Divorce proceedings can be difficult for you and your spouse. Aside from the emotional stress of letting go of someone you thought you’d be spending the rest of your life with and filing the necessary paperwork to receive child support, you might also have to deal with the stress of splitting your properties and negotiating custody over your children.
However, don’t forget that your children may also be stressed by this major change in their life. Half of American children will witness their parents divorce, and studies have shown that it can lead to physical, mental, and emotional effects on them in the long run. So, if you start to find your child acting out or getting angry before or after the divorce proceedings begin, here’s what you need to know.
Before Divorce Proceedings
As much as possible, you and your partner should remain as polite with each other as you can when you tell your children you are getting a divorce. They might have seen you fight in the past, but how you act when you announce your divorce can emotionally scar them in the long run. Remember, you’re basically telling your child that the family they have known since they were born is going to undergo major changes, and if they see Mommy speaking rudely to Daddy or Daddy encouraging his kids to be disrespectful to Mommy, it’s not going to help anyone.
Tell Your Kids Together
Despite the emotional turmoil you and your spouse are going through, remember that you are still parents and you’ll need to do what is emotionally healthy for your children. So, being the adults, you need to put on a brave face and tell your kids in a calm environment. As much as possible, let your kids know that the divorce is not because of them, both you and your spouse still love them, and while you and your spouse are no longer together, you will make it work so they can still have a relationship with both of their parents.
Do Not Bribe or Use Material Objects to Placate Your Children
When it’s clear that you and your spouse will both want custody over your children, there may be an unspoken competition to win your children’s love through any means necessary. And sometimes, some parents will resort to bribery. Suddenly your spouse will get your daughter the dollhouse she’s always wanted. Or you may think about buying your teenaged son that phone he wants.
Whether it’s to get them to want to stay with you or just because you want to give them a gift to make them feel better, never use material objects in place of actual affection or love. Especially if we’re dealing with younger children, you might unknowingly be training them to substitute material objects with love, and will slowly begin to think in such a way that the only way you can prove your love is with better and better gifts, making them angrier when you don’t give what they want.
Accept Even When Their Words Are Hurtful
While some children are observant, know what divorce is, and can easily adjust knowing it is for the best, some children can be angry with you and your spouse for, in their eyes, destroying the family they know. They may get upset and have a lot of anger, so when they say something that hurts your feelings, you can’t be mad at them for reacting this way. Their feelings are valid, even if it hurts your feelings.
However, that’s not to say they get a free pass to be rowdy or hurt others. They still have to be accountable for their actions. So, if they start to bully their siblings or classmates, sneak out, or do anything negative, you need to sit them down and help them redirect their anger towards the situation, even if it means pointing their anger towards yourself.
If They Won’t Reach Out, Make the Initiative
Some children may say that they are OK with the divorce and don’t need to have you talking things through, but their actions say otherwise. When it’s clear that they don’t want to reach out to you, sometimes you really have to make the initiative to reach out to them. It won’t be easy, and they might have already built a wall around them, but by showing that you are constantly reaching out to them, they’ll know that they are not alone – and that might be something that they need.
However, don’t force your children to talk to you, show you affection, or respond the way you want them to when that’s clearly not what they want. Forcing your children to smile or hug you when it’s clear they’re still upset is one sure way of alienating yourself and making affection for you seem like a chore than something they themselves want to do on their own.
Be Willing to Answer Any Questions
Where will I (and my siblings) live? If we live with Mom, when will we get to see Dad? How will we celebrate Christmas? Why are you divorcing?
These are just a few questions your child will ask and, as much as possible, you need to answer these questions. You have to understand that, from their perspective, they feel helpless and they watch their parents divorce, so of course they’ll want to ask questions to help them get a sense of why this is happening and what will happen to them.
Refusing to answer their question, blatantly lying, or talking down to their questions will only cause them to get angrier because they’re still in the dark as to why this is happening in their life. And by being the parent who refuses to provide them with clarity, you’re making them lose trust in you.
After Divorce Proceedings
During divorce proceedings, you and your ex will have to come to terms about which parent gets full custody of the kids. At best, you and your ex settle amicably and agree that one of you should get full custody while the other is free to contact and visit the kids when everyone is available. At worst, you and your ex are locked in a custody battle so brutal that it will escalate to court where a judge will decide what is best for the children.
Regardless of what you and your ex want, though, it’s best that both of you consider what is best for the children. Think about their education, their health, the home they’ll be living in, and see which parent is more equipped to provide all that. The parent that doesn’t get custody will still help out financially and still have a say in the child’s upbringing, though not as much as the custodial parent that will make the immediate decisions.
Do Not Turn Your Children Against Your Ex
Whether you have full or joint custody or simply visitation rights, if you see that your children are still angry over the divorce, do not fan the flames by trying to turn your child against your former spouse. Saying things like subtly blaming your ex for tearing the family apart or talking about how boring their lives are since they’re living with your ex isn’t helping anyone cope and move on with the divorce.
Instead of looking at the past and being bitter about your divorce, look to the future and try to be the mature parent with your kids. Make sure your kids are happy and healthy and encourage them to focus on their own pursuits to help them cope.
Be Open to Therapy
If your child’s anger reaches the point where their anger is taking a toll on your mental health or your child is no longer performing as well as they did at home and at school, consider attending family therapy with your children. Taking your kid to a professional can help them understand their anger and grief over the divorce, and it will also show your child that you’re trying to rebuild your relationship with them.
Show an Interest in Their Life
As much as possible, you want your divorce to affect their lives as little as possible. You want to show them that life will go on and, eventually, they’ll move on from the hurt and anger and they can adjust to a new life in a new family setting. Take their minds off the divorce by showing an interest in their lives, what they do for fun, and what’s going on with them and their friends.
This doesn’t mean you have to insert yourself into all aspect of their life, though. Instead, show that you are trying to help cope by encouraging them to find outlets they can channel their energy to instead of remaining angry about the situation.
Give Them Time to Adjust to New Relationships
After your divorce, it is possible for you to find love again. One of the worst things you can do if this happens is to drop the bomb on your kids too fast and force them to look at your new partner as their new mom or dad. You might be in love with this new person, but to your kids, this is just some stranger or someone they might have known previously but is now trying to replace your ex’s role in their lives.
No romantic relationship is more important than the relationship you have with their child. Don’t force them to see your partner as their new parent. And certainly don’t do that while your child is still angry at you.
Dealing with an angry kid before or after a divorce can be difficult. However, you have to understand that from their perspective, the security of the family they know and love is gone. And if Mommy and Daddy can break up and separate, what else can go wrong? Their anger is based on their lack of control of what’s happening, so be sure to acknowledge your children’s anger and guide them through the divorce process every step of the way.