Divorce is a family affair -- it affects everyone, including your children.
There's bound to be some fear, grief and even anger on their part -- so how do you know if they're handling things in a healthy manner or not? There are a number of signs that your kids are having trouble coping.
In young children, you may see:
- Regressions in age, reverting to thumb sucking or wetting the bed
- Changes in sleeping patterns, nightmares or insisting on sleeping with you or their other parent
- Worries that you'll forget to pick them up from school or day care, or an irrational fear that you'll suddenly leave
- The sudden appearance of an imaginary friend
In older children, you might see:
- Extreme changes in clothing, hair or makeup
- Secretive behavior, such as hiding in their rooms
- Changes in interests, including new friends that don't come around
In children of any age, look for:
- Sudden changes in a child's weight
- Outbursts of anger or extreme moods swings
- Rebellion, including refusing to obey parents and teachers
- Refusing to see the parent that "left"
- Behaving differently for one parent than the other
- A frantic hope or insistence that you and your spouse will get back together
- Sudden, vague health complaints with no identifiable cause, like stomachaches and headaches
If your child is exhibiting worrisome symptoms of stress, it's smart to be proactive. Sit your children down and address the divorce in a clear, age-appropriate way. Reassure your child that both parents still care and will be there -- even if one has moved out of the home. Make every effort to answer your children's questions. Be kind about your spouse -- whatever his or her faults, that person is still your child's other parent.
Also, consider counseling for your children -- especially children in their teens. They may need a sounding board they can trust who is outside the household.
Finally, remind yourself that this transition period may be difficult but it won't last forever. Once the divorce process is over, you'll be able to establish some "new normals" that will help your children thrive.