A broken home can disrupt and confuse a child's world. This is true from infancy through the teen years. No one wants to lose the secure feeling that a family provides. Children experience a wide array emotions to try to navigate. Parents have to provide as much stability as possible and involve other responsible role models to provide support for their child. It is important that the child knows that he is still safe, loved and cherished.
Exhibit Physical Challenges
An infant or small child can sense conflict within the family if a parent's mood changes Babies respond to changes physically. Eating or sleep patterns could be altered. The baby may seem anxious and demonstrate this nervousness by spitting up or experiencing bowel complications. A toddler can regress if he has previously been potty trained and resort to baby behaviors, like needing to be spoon fed.
Frustration with a broken family unit can manifest through open aggression by hitting, throwing tantrums and other outward expressions of pain. The younger child is not able to express emotions verbally and does not understand the negative feelings he's experiencing, suggests Lesia Oesterreich, M.S., of the National Network for Child Care website. It is important that the parent help the child vocalize these emotions and make him aware that these are valid feelings. Redirect this frustration and aggression by giving your child the words to communicate his pain.
An elementary-aged child or even a teenager may feel guilty for causing the broken home environment. He may feel that his behavior drove the other parent away and might strive to improve his behavior in hopes of the parent returning. Reassure your child that he's not the cause and will be continue to be loved by both parents. He should know that just because his parents' relationship has changed, it does not alter the way either parent feels toward him. Comfort your child at any age to dispel these feelings of guilt, so they are not internalized, causing greater harm.
Your child may feel embarrassed that his family is not intact and withdraw from normal activities. He could put on a brave front, pretending that everything is okay even when hurting. Maintain established routines at your home to make everything feel as normal as possible, suggests Michelle New, Ph.D. of the Kids Health website. Encourage your child to have close contact with family and friends to encourage him at this time, so he knows he's not alone.