Dealing with Your Child's Anger during and after Divorce
- The emotional impact of divorce on kids
- Problems your child might experience
- How to respond to your child’s anger
- How to help your child adjust
Your divorce not only affects you. It affects everyone around you, especially your children.
Kids tend to look at everything from their own vantage point, so they may not fully appreciate the reason you and your ex-spouse decided to get a divorce. They only know that their life will never be the same. They will no longer live with both parents. They feel sad and confused. They may even feel angry and betrayed.
The emotional impact of divorce on kids
Divorce can be a traumatic life event for kids. Children are physically and emotionally dependent on their parents, and when things happen over which they have no control, it can feel like a threat to their very existence.
While you and your ex have the maturity to understand there is a future after divorce, your kids only know that life as they knew it has ended. Living between households can feel confusing and unstable. Younger children may believe the divorce was their fault. Your kids may resent their perception that you didn’t try harder to make the marriage work.
Problems your child might experience
For most kids, family is their place of comfort and refuge. Divorce can make a child feel like their peace, safety, and stability are all under attack.
While you and your spouse are trying to find your own place in this new post-divorce world, your kids have had their entire foundation crumble. Their parents no longer live together. They may have a new school and new living arrangements. There are new routines and rules. You or your spouse may have had to return to the workplace. Add potential new significant others, step-parents, or step-siblings, and it can knock their sense of vulnerability into overdrive.
Kids are resilient, but even the most well-adjusted child can have a difficult time with their parents’ divorce. This time of upheaval hits each child differently; their age and emotional maturity play a role in its impact.
Mental health problems
Research suggests that children of divorce can easily slip into feelings of anxiety, low self-esteem, depression, social withdrawal, and other mental health problems. While some issues may resolve on their own with time, divorce can have a long-term effect on your child’s mental and emotional health. Some problems may follow them into adulthood.
Acting out is common for kids who are struggling with their parents’ divorce. Children of divorce often don’t know how to manage their feelings. They may respond with regression, or they may lash out at others around them. They may feel lost and disempowered at home and look for outlets that help them feel more powerful and validated.
It can be difficult for children to focus on academics when their world is falling apart. The end of their family as they knew it is a huge distraction, and school can seem unimportant and secondary to everything else happening with their mom and dad.
Some kids respond to divorce with feelings of sadness and vulnerability, but adolescents can react in more harmful ways to the anger, isolation, and vulnerability they feel. In their anger, your pre-teen or teen may try to punish you or your ex. They may try to assert their independence from you, gain acceptance from others, and take control of their own lives in whatever way they can. This may translate to engaging in risky behaviors involving drugs, binge drinking, or sexual activity.
How to respond to your child’s anger
Your child has every right to their feelings about your divorce. And, like you, it will take time for them to get used to their new home life – which may now be spread across two homes – new routines, and changed family dynamics. How should you deal with their uncomfortable emotions?
Contextualize the anger
Remember that anger is usually a response to frustration and fear. As such, one of the best things you could possibly do is listen with your heart rather than react to your child's anger.
Present a united front
Decide with your ex how the two of you will address any matters related to your divorce with your kids. Talk about how you will handle the situation if and when your kid struggles. Be as honest as possible, considering their age and maturity level.
And, whatever your feelings about the end of your marriage are, agree to stay away from blame, be consistent for the kids, and present a united front.
Agree with your ex to refrain from arguing in front of your children. The two of you can work out any differences regarding your parenting plan in a private space.
Be mindful of manipulation
Kids can become adept at tactics that pit one parent against the other after a divorce. You may need to check in with the other parent before believing everything your child says about the other.
Reiterate the kids’ value in your life
Kids need to know that despite all the changes, they’re still the most important thing in your life and your ex’s life. Be a supportive sounding board. Let your kids express their feelings, even if it’s anger directed at you. While they can be angry, insist they must remain respectful.
Through it all, let them know that both you and your ex will be there for them to help them get through this time.
How to help your child adjust to your divorce
Provide safety and consistency
Be present and consistent. Let your kids know that you will be there for them no matter how they feel. Your home will always be a safe physical and emotional place for them. Keep life as structured and consistent as possible so they don’t become overwhelmed by too many changes at once.
Create a positive environment
There may have been a lot of animosity, arguing, and conflict in your marriage. Let your child see that your divorce has provided your family with a new and positive way to live without conflict.
Listen closely. Make sure your children know you are listening to and hearing what they tell you. Promise that you will always be there for them, and reassure them that you will get through this together.
Teach healthy coping skills
Teach your child healthy coping skills like emotional regulation and problem-solving during this time. These skills will not only help them deal with life after divorce, but they will also help in future times of distress.
Parenting is hard enough when everything is normal. Parenting through and after a divorce is uncharted waters for even the best of parents. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources out there in the way of books, websites, and online and in-person parenting classes. Some states even require co-parents to take parenting classes as part of their divorce process.
Get professional help
If your child has been struggling for a long time and doesn’t seem to be moving on, you may want to consider getting help from a trained mental health professional. For example, a licensed therapist can help get to the root of their anger and fear so an open and healing dialog can take place.
A professional divorce coach can also help you address the needs of your kids as you navigate the before and after of your divorce.
Your kids may never fully understand why you and your ex needed to divorce, and that’s okay. The best thing you can do is have a healthy co-parenting relationship with your ex so you both can support them through the transition and be there for them when they face challenges or have questions.
While it may not feel like it now, your divorce will be a small speck in your rear-view mirror someday. Everyone will survive, and, in most cases, you will all be better for it.
At Hello Divorce, we are here to support you and your children through your divorce and beyond. We have cost-effective divorce plans and flat-rate professional services that can address almost any aspect of the divorce process. Let us help. Schedule a free 15-minute phone call to learn more.