How Divorce Affects Toddlers

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Although difficult to discern, how divorce affects toddlers may be apparent by certain behavioral signs. Babies may not be able to verbalize emotions, but actions speak louder than words. A happy youngster will laugh, have a good appetite, play, and sleep soundly; but troubled toddlers may show signs of irritability, cry constantly, stop eating or become picky, or seem disinterested in all but a favorite toy. Other signs of how divorce affects toddlers include sleeplessness, changes in bowel habits and bed wetting, or behaving fearful or withdrawn. Some children may cling to the primary caregiver and refuse to have contact with other adults due to the absence of one parent. Kids may also have nightmares, awaken abruptly, or become more fearful of the dark or sleeping alone. Astute parents should recognize when children display unusual behavior patterns. Even while undergoing the trauma of marital separation, ex-spouses need not ignore the impact of separation or divorce on the kids. They are not immune to suffering emotionally when the family is being torn apart. Ignoring even subtle changes could result in lifelong psychological disturbances or habits.

When adults decide to separate, very little thought is given to how divorce affects toddlers. Parents may just assume that Johnny is completely unaware of a hostile marital environment, but kids can be sensitive to their surroundings. An irritable youngster who refuses to eat or a child who throws tantrums may be responding to a volatile home environment or missing Mom or Dad. Kids who are just learning to talk may periodically or repeatedly say, Da-da, as if to question the mother about the father's whereabouts. When children stop eating or have changes in toilet habits, a primary caregiver will need to quickly address those kinds of issues. Youngsters are not able to verbally express anxiety but can sense when something is amiss in the environment, especially a parent's absence. The custodial parent should be observant and recognize signs of distress, such as crying, bed wetting, or a disinterest in eating. A pediatrician or child psychologist may be consulted if symptoms of distress last longer than a week or two.

Babies in distress may shut down emotionally and stop eating because of depression or anxiety. Mothers or caregivers may need to focus on spending more time with a depressed youngster. Holding the child close in a rocking chair or coddling in a warm blanket assures a tot that they are safe and loved in spite of the absence of Mom or Dad and changes in the home's atmosphere. Adults who understand how divorce affects toddlers will want to allow young children to touch or feel an article of clothing worn by an ex-husband or wife. Soft fabrics that have the scent of the other parent may offer comfort. A youngster may cling to a favorite plush animal or blanket as a way of coping with the distress of temporarily losing a mother or father. The custodial parent can gradually wean small children away from the desire for the non-custodial parent's presence by becoming more involved during times the child frequently interacted with the absent father or mother.

Understanding how divorce affects toddlers is crucial to a youngster's emotional, physical and mental well being. Because children under the age of five cannot understand adult concepts, parents may have difficulty in conveying the idea that Mommy or Daddy is no longer living with the family. It is therefore important to replace a child's expectations of seeing a mother or father at a certain time of day with other activities. A custodial parent must be careful to explain that Mommy or Daddy lives in another house and that the child will see the other parent at some other time. Although kids won't comprehend the concept or how divorce affects toddlers, the primary caregiver should be careful to instill hope within the child's little heart and mind that they will see Daddy again. And that's really what a toddler wants: to know that a mother or father, though not living at home, still loves them and will still be a part of life. Affection, love, and prayer will help little ones adjust to life without the other parent. Praying over youngsters while they sleep or are at play will help ease the tension and transition to a life without Mom or Dad. The Holy Spirit brings comfort and solace to children as well as adults in a time of need. "Then were there brought unto Him little children, that He should put His hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto Me: for of such is the Kingdom of heaven. And He laid His hands on them, and departed thence" (Matthew 19:14-15).

In order to remedy the adverse impact of how divorce affects toddlers, custodial parents should try to involve non-custodial parents as much as possible. Even if the relationship is on shaky ground, preparing a young child for a life changing separation requires cooperation, collaboration, patience and time. Adults who acknowledge how divorce affects toddlers should call a temporary truce on a cold war in order to work out parenting details, especially visitation rights. Fully understanding how traumatic marital dissolution can be helps both parents take responsibility to ease the transition and help youngsters cope. Maintaining contact with both parents on a regular basis, reassuring a child that they are equally loved by both parents, working out an amenable schedule to meet the toddler's needs, and prayer are all crucial if some behavioral problems are to be prevented.

How Divorce Affects Teenagers

Anticipating how divorce affects teenagers depends largely on parental involvement and sensitivity. While small children may be more predictable, an adolescent's response to a family breakup can vary widely. Teens are subject to raging hormones and elusive emotions; and a family crisis can bring out the worse in older children. When mothers and fathers decide to break up, special attention should be directed at minor children and teens. The adolescent years are already tumultuous enough without facing a marital breakup; therefore parents must use extra care in detecting the emotional impact of divorce and attempt to offer comfort and encouragement when adolescents respond negatively.

Teenagers are also tend to either wear feelings on their sleeve or retreat into nonverbal communication, which can be just as provocative. How divorce affects teenagers may include changes in behavior like acting out fears and frustrations by skipping or failing at school; hanging out with the wrong crowd; or becoming abusive toward siblings, teachers, or parents. A student who normally performs well in school, is respectful towards those in authority, or compliant with rules and regulations may transform into an entirely different individual when faced with the stress of witnessing parents embroiled in a separation or divorce. Marital discord can have such a devastating effect on adolescents that substance abuse, suicidal tendencies and mental illness can erupt. Teens in crisis may also react by becoming overly promiscuous, especially in the absence of a beloved father or mother.

Rebellion against authoritative figures may be indicative of an attempt to regain control over what a teen perceives as an uncontrollable situation. When parents separate or divorce, a child's whole world is torn apart and every vestige of normalcy leaves. A hostile environment wrought with constant fighting and bickering can cause young and older children to undergo stress. Few children want to see their parents divorce; and may blame marital conflict on some personal failure. They reason, "Dad left Mom because he got tired of my bad habits." Or, "Mom and Dad are having fights because of me constantly asking for things they cannot afford." Operating under misconceptions can only heighten a child's anxiety level or cause teens to retreat further into an unknown world full of imaginary evils. Parents who understand how divorce affects teenagers may recognize when children are depressed, angry or reacting in a hostile manner. However, some abnormal or aggressive behavior can be remedied by talking to adolescents about family issues.

Newly estranged mothers and fathers should get the children together to tactfully share general information about their failing marriage and decision to divorce. Letting an adolescent know why couples have chosen to separate will annul any misconstrued idea that the child is the cause of an altercation. Parents should strive to be as forthcoming as possible without accusing or denigrating one another. Junior does not need to know the sordid details of Mom's affair with the next door neighbor or Dad's drunken and abusive ways in the bedroom. Simply stating that it was a mutual decision to part may help alleviate some concern about how divorce affects teenagers. The truth spoken in love can set adults and adolescents free from damaging thoughts, ideas and emotions. "Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. They answered him, We be Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free? Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed" (John 8:31-36).

Mothers and fathers who are aware of how divorce affects teenagers should also be cognizant of the fact that youngsters will want to know who the custodial parent will be and the extent of the non-custodial parent's involvement. The goal during a family discussion will be to offer comfort and solace to a distressed or distraught teen. An awareness of how divorce affects teenagers can help parents share information in a non-threatening manner. A family discussion may also be the right time to address expectations adults may have of an adolescent's behavior. Talks can focus on the teen's responsibility to attend and successfully complete school. Decisions to continue at the current high school or transfer to one closer to a custodial or non-custodial parent may also be appropriate. Teenagers may also be informed about formal visitation rights or expectations for holidays, weekend family activities or future educational opportunities. Sensitive issues like suspected drug abuse or promiscuity may be tabled until teens can fully grasp the initial news of a marital breakup.

Parents who realize how divorce affects teenagers may also seek professional or spiritual help to deal with troublesome and perplexing problems. Experienced counselors can offer therapy and mediation for parents and teens of a broken home. Therapy may include short- or long-term counseling with one or both adults, the entire family, between an individual teen and the therapist, or in the company of other siblings. A family crisis like divorce requires adults to be sensitive to the teen's needs while maintaining a sense of decorum and civility. Couples in crisis should be sure not to involve adolescents in adult matters or coerce teenagers into taking sides or joining in the battle for custody or control of the household. Although teens consider themselves adults, both spouses will need to provide as much nurturing as possible to help adolescents get through the trauma of divorce. By being supportive and nurturing, but also firm and frank, how divorce affects teenagers does not have to have a lasting impact.

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