According to the Association of Marriage and Family Counseling, “Divorce propels adults and children into numerous adjustments and challenges. While each child’s acclimation to divorce is different, the majority will weather these changes successfully, and grow up to become well-adjusted adults.
However, up to a 25 percent of children whose parents divorce experience ongoing emotional and behavior difficulties (as compared to 10 percent of children whose parents do not divorce).”
Although there are variations in a child’s long-term reaction to their parent's divorce in the short-term most children experience a large amount of distress in the form of sadness, anxiety, anger, guilt, confusion, conflicts when it comes to loyalty between parents and longings for time with the absent parent.
If you see early signs of distress in your children, signs your child is highly stressed out, seeking the help of a therapist could keep your child from becoming a part of the 25 percent who experience ongoing emotional and behavior problems after your divorce.
15 Signs Your Child May Need Therapy Due to Your Divorce
1. Prolonged periods of sadness or anger can be an indication that the child is suffering from clinical depression.
2. Prolonged difficulty sleeping or staying asleep.
3. Frequent nightmares or night terrors.
4. Persistent regressed behavior. A five-year-old may begin to wet their pants again. A 14-year-old may begin to fear being away from home for more than a few hours.
5. Expressions of a desire to hurt him or herself.
6. A significant change in school performance. Has your A student started flunking tests and lost interest in school activities?
7. Lack of desire to engage in usual social, athletic, school or family activities. This can be another sign of clinical depression in your children.
8. Refusal to spend time with a parent. Unless there were issues of abuse in the family, a child refusing to spend time with a parent is a sign that child is feeling the need to take sides. No child should feel they have been put in a position of choosing one parent over the other.
9. Significant, prolonged behavior change. The polite child may become inconsiderate. The gregarious, outgoing child may become less interested in friends and social activities.
10. An increase in physical complaints such as headaches or stomachaches. Somatoform illnesses are common in children who are having a difficult time dealing with their parent’s divorce. Headaches, stomachaches, and allergy type symptoms are common ways for emotional distress to show as a physical illness in children.
11. A drastic change in eating habits. Loss of appetite or an increase in appetite can indicate stress and, in some cases, depression and anxiety.
12. The development of anxiety that interferes with the child’s ability to function in their daily lives. Has your child developed a fear of being away from you? Is your child experiencing panic attacks?
13. Constant anger and a tendency to overreact to normal daily situations. Is your child suddenly throwing temper tantrums, refusing to follow family rules and lashing out in anger?
14. The child’s behavior is interfering with the family’s ability to functioning. Have you found yourself missing work days due to problems with your child? Has your child become the focus of the family? The family’s ability to function as a unit is falling apart due to behavioral or emotional problems the child is experiencing.
15. Recurrent bedwetting can happen. Although stress doesn’t cause a child to start wetting the bed, behavior the child engages in when under stress can make bedwetting worse, or make a child who was mostly dry experience wet nights.
If your child is showing some or most of these signs, they likely need therapy due to divorce related stress. Therapy for children can be very helpful, particularly if a problem is identified and dealt with before it gets worse.
Even though it is normal for a child to have a negative reaction to their parent’s divorce, don’t let the notion that it is normal keep you from seeking help for your child at the first sign of trouble.