Divorce has many effects on children. No two children will react in exactly the same way. That's why parents need to be diligent about watching for signs and indications that your child may be having problems coping with this difficult reality.
Depression is one of the more common reactions we see in children of divorce. Unfortunately, many parents entirely miss or misinterpret the signs of depression. It can take many forms including behavior that is distancing, lethargic and withdrawn. This is often accompanied by a drop in school grades. But depression can also show in other ways, such as agitation, frustration and aggression.
When depression takes that form, parents are likely to think of it in terms of discipline problems and respond with punishment. It takes maturity and a broader perspective to stand back and realize that your child's misbehavior may actually be a way of communicating how they are feeling. Their confusion, anger, resentment and powerlessness to control their life circumstances get expressed physically because they don't know how to verbalize those complex emotions.
Understanding and compassion go a long way toward opening that door to communication. Instead of punishment, try talking about your new family situation and acknowledging areas that can be improved. Ask for suggestions. Try to get feedback, to create a dialogue rather than lecturing.
The key for parents is in finding more time for emotional support and reassurance to help your child feel less alone or isolated - especially by the new circumstances in his or her life. If extended family - grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins are not close by, this becomes even more essential. Children need the support of emotional anchors - close family and friends - and the consequences of divorce too often isolates them from the very people who can best help them through the transition. For this reason you as a parent must continuously keep your eyes open for signs of emotional distress - and then quickly respond with love, attention, compassion and both physical and emotional support.
Studies show that the rate of serious depression is increasing in children - up from 2% a generation ago to 23% for children up to age 20. Not all of it is divorce related, of course, but it still should be a wake-up call to parents. Don't beat yourself up with guilt. That doesn't serve any one in the family. But do be alert so you can address issues that come up early on, before they lead to far greater problems.
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