It’s only natural for children to develop fears after a major transition, such as a parental divorce or separation. After all, the break-up of a marriage is a period of instability in a family, and many things become uncertain about the future. If this is the first time that your child has experienced a major loss, he or she may not yet have the coping skills needed to deal with the emotional trauma.
What fears can children experience after parental divorce or separation? Consider the following:
Living Arrangements and Day-to-Day Needs
Kids worry about practical details too. After a divorce or separation, kids may wonder where they will live, if the family has to move, and whether or not their custodial parent can provide for all their basic needs. These fears are not exactly unfounded; single parents and co-parents usually have to deal with lesser financial resources that they did when they were married, simply because they end up providing for two homes instead of one.
Fear of Losing their Parent’s Presence and Love
Naturally, children fear that divorce or separation will mean not just lesser contact with a parent, but also fewer opportunities to be together in a natural way and build a relationship. Kids may fear that after divorce, their parents will not love them anymore. Even really young children feel this fear, which may result in age-inappropriate separation anxiety.
Fear of Remarriage and What it Means for Them
Kids also have anxieties regarding the emergence of a new family structure. If one or both parents are already in a relationship after the divorce or separation, it’s only reasonable to worry about having to adjust to a step-parent and step-siblings. Kids may also have to accept that a remarriage means that all hope for their parents reconciling is gone. This realization can be difficult for a child who may still be in denial that his or her parents’ marriage is already over.
Fear That It’s Their Fault
Children, especially younger kids, can end up thinking that parents’ divorce or separation is their fault, either because of something they did wrong, or because they are not good enough reasons for parents to stay together. This self-blame can turn into a debilitating anxiety if not addressed early on.
What can Parents Do to Help their Children?
Below are some tips parents may wish to consider:
Provide Constant Reassurance, Love and Protection
Kids need to know that even if a parent will no longer be in the same residence as they are, they are always available — in fact, they will be visiting regularly. Kids also need to be reassured that the divorce is not their fault, and there’s nothing they could have done to prevent it from happening.
Inform Your Child About Future Changes
Keeping kids informed regarding future living arrangements and living standards can help children wrap their minds around the change. Being informed also stops kids from imagining the worst, helping to alleviate their fears.
Avoid Making Promises that Cannot be Kept
As much as possible, give your children realistic hope. If kids expect something and end up being disappointed, their fears will be reinforced. Therefore, only promise what you are truly capapble of delivering. Don’t talk about arrangements that have yet to be established in law or through mediation. Don’t even use the word “hope” to describe what you think might occur in the future (i.e. “I hope that I’ll be able to see you every weekend”). Instead, say only what you know to be true and what you are capable of doing. “Mommy/Daddy and I are working everything out with the lawyers and soon we will have a regular schedule.”
Help Your Child Access Proper Social Support in this Critical Time
Friends and loved ones can go a long way in helping a child manage fears associated with divorce or separation. If a child feels that he or she is not alone, instability can become manageable. Try to continue visits with extended family members, keep up the child’s playdates and even join new parent-child groups in the community in order to keep your child feeling part of a larger world of relationships. Isolation is not advisable during times of stress. It will be good for you too, as you take your child to be with people. Even one regular outing of this kind each week can make a big difference.