Children usually let you know their feelings through actions, not words. This is especially true in response to a complex situation like divorce. Kids may express themselves through problem behaviors that don't seem connected to the divorce at all.
In the second installment of our exclusive firstwivesworld series, Divorce Through a Child's Eyes, you'll learn to spot the signs that your child is hurting from the divorce. What are the behavior patterns? And how can you connect the dots and respond to the problems effectively? Here are the most common ways kids act out — more importanly, why and what you can about it:
Many mothers notice that their children seem more self-involved after the divorce. Children sometimes act cynical and thoughtless — everything is "Me Me Me!"
The feelings behind it: Children enter the world feeling like the center of the universe — as if all of human history culminated in Mommy and Daddy meeting and having ME! As they mature, children gradually grow out of this self-centered worldview. But divorce is a sharp blow — forcing children to face the harsh reality, often before they're emotionally ready to deal with it.
How you can respond: You may feel like saying, "You're not the center of the universe, you know!" But that's precisely the problem. She's feeling marginalized and insignificant. Demonstrate that your love for her is, in fact, the center of your world — with a wink, a gesture or a hug — not a long lecture. That affection will help give her the reassurance she needs.
LACK OF AMBITION
Is your child bringing home poor grades or slacking off in certain areas? You may note that he seems discouraged and sad, or perhaps more invested in social activities than schoolwork.
The feelings behind it: Divorce can shake a child's confidence in the future. It's as though he wonders: "Gee, if Mom and Dad could have been so wrong about getting married, how can any plan make sense?" That loss of faith may spill over into his hopes for himself. It feels as if life is a dog-eat-dog world where everyone is just out for what he can get. The child focuses on what he can do RIGHT NOW to feel better, rather than committing himself to future goals.
How you can respond: Here, your mission is to show your child that you have faith in your relationship with him, and in the future self that he will become. Look for ways to demonstrate that you have confidence in her inner goodness and good intentions. Be available to support your child's hard work in areas such as homework and other obligations. She needs your optimism and enthusiasm to feel confident about her ability to meet her own goals.
Beware of power struggles. After a divorce, you may find yourself involved in a battle of wills with your children over simple, day-to-day tasks — sleep, schoolwork, money, clothes and everything else!
The feelings behind it: The "angry" child is likely dumping on you. Mom is a convenient target for a number of emotions that are really aimed at other people-often Dad. You are handy and available, so it may feel safer to pick a fight with you than to confront Dad-who is somewhere else, anyway. Plus, your child may be dealing with so many emotions that it's hard for him to know who to blame.
How you can respond: It may take the patience of a saint. But stay calm and flexible about minor skirmishes to help you stay in the driver's seat. Try to focus on the constructive relationship you have established with your child, and nourish it with empathy and respect. Actively seek out a kernel of the truth in the child's complaints — and see if you can admit your own errors. Showing the child how to apologize (by doing so!) and how to "kiss and make up" can do wonders for the "angry" child, and magically transform a youngster's apparent hostility towards you into admiration.
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