How to Help Children Cope with Separation and Divorce
Today, one in two marriages end in divorce. Children whose own parents divorced are more likely to divorce themselves. Because divorce is no longer a social taboo people opt for this more quickly rather than try to work things out and fewer people than in previous generations are now prepared to stay in an unhappy marriage.
When couples with children split up there is less money for the custodial parent to live on so the family home might have to be sold to provide two households and the children might have to move area and change schools. Some children might have to be taken into care or be brought up by a relative if neither parent can house them or care for them. Relationships children had with extended family members can change for the worse, and with the removal of a partner from the family home there is also the possibility of a loss of a role model, parenting skills, general skills and support from the extended family of that parent.
Children from divorced families are less likely to do well in school, have poorer mental health, lower self-esteem and more problems with their relationships than children from intact families. Pre-teenagers might get involved in drug or alcohol misuse and truanting, while teenagers might become sexually active earlier and be involved in delinquent behavior. However, not all children affected by divorce have these problems – and some children have them regardless of their parents divorcing.
Children of separating and divorcing parents may feel betrayed, hurt, angry, sad, rejected, abandoned, fearful, confused and they may have little self-worth, feeling unlovable and to blame for what has happened. Sometimes children become withdrawn, depressed and anxious.
Discuss the following questions with the class:
- Have you experienced your parents separating or divorcing? How did you feel about it?
- How could you help friends whose parents are going through separation or divorce? (Talk to them about their feelings. Be understanding if they are grumpy or moody – make allowances. Try to empathize with them and imagine how it would feel if your parents were splitting up or how it felt when they did.)
- What problems might children face when becoming part of a new family or when their family gets ‘blended’ with another? (Children from I each family might be treated differently and there might be step-sibling rivalry, with step-parents not liking the children or the I children not taking to them. Children from the two families might have to share rooms, have less time alone with their parent than they used to and have to eat food they might not like, prepared by a step-parent. There might be new rules and they might be told off by someone new. | They might still hope that their own parents will get together again.)
- Have you experienced positive outcomes of a newly formed family? (You might benefit from a larger support network of relations as you have step-grandparents and aunts and uncles too now; you might be relieved that the conflict you experienced at home has stopped; you might have escaped from an abusive parent.)
- How could you help a friend whose divorced parent is remarrying? (Talk to them about their feelings. Be understanding if they are grumpy or moody – make allowances. Try to empathize and imagine how you would feel if your mum or dad remarried – or how it felt when they did.)