Minimising Anxiety in Children During a Divorce

Regardless of their age and gender, research demonstrates that children of divorced parents are more likely to experience psychological problems. Studies have found higher anxiety and depression rates among children with divorced or separated parents. For a small minority of these children, the psychological effects of divorce may be long-lasting and have effects that last well into adulthood. 

Anxiety in teens and kids can manifest itself in a variety of ways. Parents and teachers should look out for changes in mood and attitude at home and school. 

Here are some signs of anxiety to watch out for: 

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Irritability

  • Increased emotional responses such as anger, fearfulness, temper tantrums, opposition, defiance.

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Social withdrawal

  • Changes in appetite

  • Wetting the bed

  • Decreased academic performance

  • Separation anxiety

The good news is that there are lots of ways for parents to help their children through the difficulties of a divorce. Here are some supportive parenting strategies that can help children adjust and minimise the negative impacts of a separation:

Keep kids out of conflict: 

While conflict between two parents going through a divorce may not be avoidable entirely, it is important to agree not to let them take place in front of the kids. Children who see their parents screaming or threatening one another are more likely to experience distress and develop behavioural problems. 

Don’t put them in the middle: 

Do not ask kids to choose sides or relay messages. Children who feel caught in the middle between their parents are more likely to experience depression and anxiety.

Maintain a strong bond: 

Many parents who are going through a separation get lost in their own emotions. This can have a negative impact on the parent-child bond even more than spending less time together. Ensure you maintain positive communication, demonstrate warmth and try not to express your anger about the other parent in front of your children.

Create a safe, secure environment: 

Uncertainty about the future, fears of abandonment, new schools and living arrangements are common concerns for children of divorced parents. These feelings can cause a lot of anxiety, but you can minimise it by making your child feel safe, loved and secure.

Try to be consistent: 

Although many things may be changing during a divorce (living arrangements and schedules) discipline need not be one of them. Try to establish and maintain age-appropriate rules and the consequences for breaking them. 

Empower your child: 

Your kids may not feel confident about their ability to cope with the changes associated with the divorce. Those who see themselves as helpless in the face of the challenges are more likely to experience anxiety. Teach your children that although adjusting to the changes may be difficult, they are strong and can handle it. 

Model coping skills: 

Children with great coping skills have an easier time adapting to divorce. Teach your child how to manage their thoughts and feelings about the situation in a healthy way. One of the best ways to do this is to model these coping strategies yourself through your own behaviour. 

Consider professional help: 

If you are having a hard time dealing with your own emotions or find that aspects of your divorce are interfering with your ability to function and parent then seek professional help. A professional like a Clinical Psychologist can help you develop coping strategies and reduce your stress levels. 

Although a divorce is tough on a family, staying together for the sake of the kids is not always the best option. Sometimes the dysfunction that precipitates a divorce is more traumatising than the divorce itself. If you and your partner argue a lot or are hostile towards one another it may put them at higher risk for anxiety to be exposed to the conflict and discontentment in the long-term than to go through a separation. 

While it is normal for children to struggle with a divorce it may be helpful for them to have someone to talk to who is not a family member. A professional like a Clinical Psychologist can be an invaluable confidant for children going through a divorce. One to one therapy may help your child work through their emotions and family therapy can help the entire family address the overall dynamics following a divorce. 

If you find that your child is experiencing anxiety or other mental issues that persist beyond the divorce, your GP will be there to offer you advice or please get in touch with us at the Sydney Anxiety Clinic.