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How Children Experience Grief Through a Divorce

How Children Experience Grief Through a Divorce

How Children Experience Grief During A Divorce

Deciding on a divorce is never easy and neither is dividing one family into two households. As difficult as the divorce process is for parents, it can be even more distressing for children—who have no control. Instead, they are caught in a tide of change caused by the decisions of their parents and a judge.

Parents going through divorce suffer emotions ranging from sorrow to anger or even fear, but according to child psychologists, children experience the loss of their familiar family unit as they would a death—often by going through the five stages of grief.

All children are individuals and no two react the same way to their parents’ divorce, even within the same family. Some may experience the stages of grief in chronological order and others experience some or all of the stages in a different order, but for many children, the grieving process after their parent’s divorce is similar to that experienced after a tragic loss.

Denial Through the Early Divorce Process

Children rely on a familiar daily routine for their sense of security. A divorce shatters that familiar routine. A child might initially react to the news of a divorce or one parent leaving the home with shock and denial. They might try to offer solutions for their parents to remain together as a way of denying that the split is inevitable.

During this time, parents must do their best to reassure their children that they will remain a family despite living in separate households. Parents should reiterate that they’ll soon have a “new normal” with a routine schedule for the days spent with each parent. Parents should reassure children that they are in no way responsible for the split.

Anger During Parents’ Divorce

Once children accept that the divorce is going to happen, they often move on to the anger phase of the grieving process. During this stage, they may be angry at one parent and blame that parent for the divorce, or they may target both parents with their anger and feel a sense of outrage that their parents couldn’t get past their problems and remain together. In some cases, a child might turn their anger toward a sibling as an outlet for their strong emotions.

Parents should be patient with their child’s anger and while gently correcting rudeness and tantrums, they should also reassure their child that they understand their feelings and will continue to love them through the difficult process.

Bargaining With Parents During a Divorce

Children often fantasize about their parents reuniting. They may offer many solutions for their parents to get back together or they may promise good behavior, help with chores, or get better grades if only their parents reunite. Sometimes this reveals their deeply rooted feeling that they are to blame for the divorce and that an improvement in behavior could change the outcome.

It’s important for parents to make it clear to their children that the divorce did not result from anything the children did and they cannot stop the divorce by any change in behavior.

Depression During Their Parents’ Divorce

Once a child has processed the fact that the divorce is permanent and they cannot change it with their behavior or by wishing or pleading, depression often settles in. Children may become moody and irritable or quiet and withdrawn. They may feel that the parent who moved out abandoned them or have a strong sense of loneliness and desperation without the parent’s presence in the home.

During this stage, parents should be patient and loving toward their children, and each parent should spend as much time with their children as possible.

Acceptance of the Divorce

Eventually, children of divorced parents settle into their new routine, and life begins to feel normal for them again. Once they accept this “new normal,” they come to terms with their parents’ divorce and accept that they are never going to live together as a family the way that they used to. As time passes, children cease grieving for the past and acquire a sense of comfort and security within their new routine.

For parents, their children entering the acceptance phase can feel like a blessing. It’s important for parents to remain supportive and reassuring, and to expect occasional setbacks. Continuing to assure children that both parents will always remain a family with the children at their center, helps children to move forward on the best possible foundation.

Contact A Denver Divorce Lawyer If You Need Help

If you’re going through a divorce and need help with figuring out the next steps, get in touch with a Denver divorce attorney from Ciancio Ciancio Brown, P.C. today. We can help you during this difficult time.