by Wrae Meredith Sanders and Bonnie Harris Price
We all know the hard truth; divorces affect kids. Even when they say they’re okay, you must know something in them breaks when a couple decides to call it quits. Kids may withdraw, eat or sleep too much.
They may even get fed up and tell you how much they hate you.
However, your special needs children may be unable to put it into words, but they know their lives have changed. Children with special needs feel loss, sadness, and pain just like the rest of us.
Most parents don’t split into friendly terms. Even when you try your best to keep it civil, kids feel the tension between you. Sooner or later, the signs of their stress begin to show.
Verbal and non-verbal cues
Anxiety and Fear
Kids can become very anxious about not knowing what is coming next, where they will be living, going to school, etc. They may fear to lose the other parent, friends, and the home if they have to move, and more. This may lead to problems sleeping, eating and withdrawing from friends. This can also cause issues with concentrating in school, which may be picked up on by teachers.
Sadness and Depression
Kids can feel as if they are losing their family. This can leave kids very sad, which is normal. They may feel sad at having to move, missing the other parent not being in the home daily, the changes in daily life, seeing their parent sad, etc. If the sadness is not addressed, or if it is under an extreme situation, this can become depression and the child may need to see a professional.
Anger and Aggression
Some kids are angry about their parents splitting up and may become aggressive towards them, siblings or other family members. They may become aggressive towards others. This may be a big change in a usually non-aggressive child or may not be in a child that has had issues with aggression in the past. Some kids have issues with saying what they feel and this is their way of saying that they are angry with their lives. Either way, this should be addressed immediately to prevent further issues.
In non-verbal children, aggressive behavior can become a big issue. They can also regress any recently learned behaviors and need extra help and reinforcements to get back on track with positive behaviors. They may also need help with expressing their feelings in positive ways- art and music therapies can be helpful.
How to Help When Divorces Affect Kids
Help your child through this trying time
Just as your divorce wasn’t easy, the road to building emotionally healthy children isn’t either. If all it took was love, you’d already be there. However, to make sure that your children adjust, take a look at some of these suggestions.
Acknowledge your child’s feelings
This is important for all children. Let them express themselves, and for non-verbal kids, this can be difficult. They can draw, write or try other ways to express their feelings. Some kids cry, yell or scream. Some kids withdraw and become quiet, and that may become a cause for concern. Let them ask questions– it’s normal and they do need to know what will be happening. It’s also okay for them to be angry. It’s a big change, and many children are not happy that their parents are divorcing.
Give age-appropriate responses to conflict
Younger kids need fewer details because they may not be able to grasp as much about the situation, but older kids may want to know more.
Parental conflict can damage kids, so try not to fight in front of the kids if possible. Also, try not to make them feel like they have to choose between their parents or criticize the other parent in front of them.
Provide as much structure as possible throughout the separation and divorce. This gives kids a sense of stability. One day, they may seem to “get it” and one day, be a bit unsure. Remain patient– it’s a big change.
Be consistent with the other parent
Try your best to work out a way to “co-parent” with your ex. Parenting peacefully is easier for everyone involved.
Take care of yourself. This means physically and emotionally. If you need therapy to deal with the split, see someone. Furthermore, keep yourself physically healthy so that you are able to deal with the strain of a divorce.
Incidentally, allow the kids to give input on visitation, but remind them you and your ex-partner remain responsible for the final decision.
Going through a divorce is like going through the grieving process. After everyone deals with the shock and denial, then here come the emotions. Anger, sadness, and depression will be a part of your special needs child processing.
In an ideal situation, both parents should work together to help kids through the transition. On the contrary, if you find yourself dealing with it on your own, by all means, please seek help. There are free and paid resources to help you make it through.
What about you? Are you or did you go through a tough divorce? How did your child seem during the transition? Please share your stories with us below.
This five-part series will continue for the month of June if you haven’t already we invite you to read parts one and two. Please share with friends or family that may be going through this difficult time. We want them to know they’re not alone.