'Divorce' - The alarming and distressing 'D' word that, ideally, no child should see his parents go through.
But, divorces do happen, and when they happen, a child's entire world comes crashing down. For, the child has to put up with the multitude of changes that begin happening in his life and its consequences.
How a child views divorce
A child has a unique relationship with each of his parents. Although he values them independently, he views his parents as one and requires their combined love, support and nurturing. So, when something as catastrophic as a divorce happens, the child is initially shocked that his family, which was so familiar and natural to him, has ceased to exist. He then begins to feel a sense of insecurity and instability caused by everything strange that is happening around him. "The child's basic attachment process with either of the parents is hampered and he is unsure how to suddenly deal with the absence of a parent and with the unusualness of the situation," says Ms Sonalee Chattopadhyay, Clinical Psychologist, Calcutta National Medical College and Hospital. "It is difficult for the child to accept only one parent, and a parent cannot expect the child to be comfortable or consenting to this unexpected change immediately," she explains.
How divorce affects a child
Divorce proceedings can often get nasty. Young children aren't able to deal with such a situation because of their lack of emotional maturity, although teenagers, to an extent, do understand and try to cope with it.
Emotional instability: When spouses start the blame game, children are often dragged into the battle unnecessarily. This affects their emotional stability.
Display of unacceptable behaviours: Children tend to model their emotions and expressions after their parents. When exposed to ugly fights, name-calling and uncalled-for bickering, children begin to believe that these unpleasant behaviours are acceptable. As a result, in the future, they may also adopt a similar approach when facing problems in their own lives.
Depression: When children are drawn into an emotional conflict caused by divorce, they often go into depression. "Although this may not seem obvious, the symptoms manifest in various ways", says Ms Chattopadhyay, "like behaviour problems, which are at a greater risk of surfacing as a result of divorce."
Poor academic performance: Being preoccupied with worries about the goings-on and anxiety about the future causes a child to have low motivation and concentration levels. This can have a huge impact on his academic performance.
Addiction issues: With parents waging a war against each other, children often find themselves without the emotional support they so badly require. As a result, they may get addicted to television, video games or other gadgets, and even drugs, to support their emotional needs.
Witnessing parents undergoing a divorce is a traumatic experience for any child. You can minimise the negative emotional effects and help your child adjust to the new circumstances with your support, sensitivity and emotional maturity.
Here are some tips to help your child sail through this rough phase:
Talk to your child about your impending separation from your spouse. Explain to her the reasons and assure her of both you and your spouse's continued love and support. Most children are anxious about who is going to care for them once their parents no longer live together.
Encourage her to express her feelings about the situation. She will have questions. Answer them clearly. Not responding with an answer will leave her more anxious or confused.
Refrain from influencing your child to take sides by bad-mouthing or passing negative comments about your spouse. Let your child form her own opinion, which will depend on the unique relationship that he shares with the two of you.
If both you and your spouse share the custody of the child, don't ask or expect your child to snoop around and report the happenings in your spouse's life.
Parents must remember that even though they don't see their spouses as their partners any more, they continue to be parents to their children. "In case of separation, adults may not fulfil their spouse's needs any longer, but this doesn't mean that they stop being parents," says Ms Chattopadhyay. "It is important to understand that the relationship between the parent and child is removed from the relationship between a husband and a wife," she adds. So, ensure that you continue to share parenting responsibilities even after separation. This will reassure your child that she continues to remain a priority for her parents.
Try to keep your child's routine as normal as possible. This will help her get used to the changes that she has to deal with.