Parents seek to insulate their children from the negative effects of divorce, but it’s normal for children to experience stress related to some of the intense emotions they might experience during this time. A common response to stress for some children is to exhibit behavioral problems, although children differ according to their developmental level and coping skills in how stress influences their behavior. An awareness and active monitoring of problems can help you to provide the loving support your child needs.
Preschool children might demonstrate regressive behavior in response to a divorce. Your little one might remind you of a bottle of glue as she adheres securely to you to ensure your continued presence, says pediatrician William Sears at AskDrSears.com. Other common regressive behaviors include thumb-sucking and bed-wetting. Problems with your preschool child’s sleep pattern might include waking several times during the night and refusing to sleep in her own bed.
Your child might experience grief related to the changes in the family, and feelings of hopelessness related to possible fantasies about reconciliation between you and your former spouse. If your child appears tearful and withdrawn, or no longer enjoys spending time in preferred activities, she might be experiencing normal feelings of sadness that diminish with time and your support. If those symptoms do not abate, or are accompanied by self-injury, sleep problems, poor appetite or anger, contact your child’s pediatrician or a mental health worker to share your concerns, recommends Helpguide.org.
Problems with anger are more prevalent in school-age children, who might feel overwhelmed, helpless and frustrated about the event that has transformed their world. Children might feel angry with themselves for not saving their parents’ marriage, or feel angry with their parents for disrupting the family and home environment. When your child feels overwhelmed by anger, you might observe tantrums, aggression and inappropriate behavior at school. When unresolved anger is associated with school truancy, alcohol and drug use and a pattern of oppositional behavior, contact a mental health worker to receive support and treatment for your child.
Behavioral changes are normal and typically temporary for your child during this time. Continue to monitor your child’s progress, and remember that all children respond to stress differently. If the changes in your child’s behavior escalate, or if the observed changes interfere with enjoying daily activities, consult with your child’s pediatrician to explore a plan of action for additional support.