Family members experiencing divorce may sense a myriad of emotions including anger, sadness, hopelessness, and stress. Added to this list for many parents is a heightened concern for the emotional well-being of their children throughout the separation process. Even the most amicable of divorces may negatively impact children as they navigate a new normal and adjust to perceived losses. Below are three common symptoms of emotional distress in children and possible signs that your child could benefit from post-divorce therapy:
1. Regressive Behaviors. Parents with children who have gone through a divorce may notice regression in their child’s behavior. Regression occurs when a child exhibits behaviors that are not developmentally appropriate for their age. If your potty-trained toddler suddenly begins wetting their bed or your child engages in self-soothing acts such as thumb-sucking, don’t be alarmed. Regressive behaviors can be caused by stressful or traumatic events in a child’s life. If your child’s regression lasts for more than a few weeks, contact your pediatrician to discuss your concerns. It may be your child is feeling insecure or sad and a child psychologist might be able to assist by providing your child coping skills and tools to better regulate emotions.
2. Increased Aggression. Children display their emotions in a variety of ways. Some children hide their feelings, some want to discuss them, and others behave in a manner that may seem completely out of character. Often times, otherwise well-behaved children will engage in rebellious behavior when they are experiencing emotional distress. This can come in the form of angry outbursts, disobedience, and other forms of insubordination. Reassuring your child that you understand what they are feeling and that you recognize they are going through a difficult time goes a long way in providing validation to their emotions. Ensure your child knows you value their feelings and offer a listening ear every so often. Staying emotionally in tune with your child is an important part of early intervention.
3. Separation Anxiety. It is not uncommon for some children to encounter a certain level of separation anxiety during and after divorce. Separation anxiety is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a form of anxiety experienced by a young child and caused by separation from a significant nurturant figure and typically a parent or from familiar surroundings.” It’s important to remember children are also feeling loss in the form of time with both parents. Attention to maintain the same routines, encouraging your child to share their fears, and reassuring them of your unconditional love are ways to show support and relieve some of their tension during this difficult transition.
It is important you trust your parental instincts. After all, you know your child better than anyone else in the world. If their behaviors significantly change or they display unusual attributes, it might be time to find an age-appropriate counselor in your area.