How to Help Your Child with Anxiety Through Divorce
Divorce can be an incredibly difficult and challenging time for everyone involved, especially for children. It’s common for them to experience anxiety during this time as their sense of stability and security is disrupted.
As a parent, it’s important to recognize the impact it may have on your child’s mental and emotional well-being. Amid all the changes and uncertainties, providing your child with the support they need is crucial in helping them navigate this new reality.
I’d like to offer some practical suggestions and ideas on how to support your child through this challenging transition, with special emphasis on managing their anxiety effectively.
Signs Your Child is Struggling
While some children may adjust relatively well to their parents’ divorce, others may struggle with the changes and experience various emotional and behavioral challenges. Here are a few signs that your child may be struggling with your divorce:
Changes in behavior
If your child’s behavior has suddenly changed following your divorce, this could be a sign that they are struggling. They may become more withdrawn, angry, or act out in school or at home. They may also exhibit changes in eating or sleeping patterns.
Increased emotional outbursts
Children who are struggling may have frequent emotional outbursts, including crying, yelling, or have meltdowns over smaller issues. They may have difficulty regulating their emotions and may seem more irritable or easily frustrated.
Divorce can be a major distraction and cause children to struggle academically. They may have difficulty concentrating, completing assignments, or have a decline in their grades. They may also show a lack of interest in school and a decline in their overall academic performance.
Children who are struggling with their parents’ divorce may isolate themselves from friends and social activities. They may no longer participate in activities they used to enjoy and may have difficulty making new friends or engaging in social interactions.
Some children may experience physical symptoms as a result of the stress of divorce. These symptoms can include headaches, stomachaches, loss of appetite, or difficulty sleeping.
Increased clinginess or dependency
Some children may become more clingy or dependent upon their parents following a separation or divorce. They may feel insecure and crave more attention and reassurance from their parents.
Children may exhibit regressive behaviors, such as bed-wetting, thumb-sucking, or acting younger than their age. This is a way for them to cope with the uncertainty of divorce.
It’s important to remember that every child is different and may show their struggles in different ways. If you notice any of these signs in your child, it’s important to provide them with emotional support, communicate openly, and consider seeking professional help from a therapist who specializes in working with children and families dealing with divorce.
Tips on How to Help Your Child with Anxiety Through Divorce
As a parent, it’s important to understand and address your child’s anxiety in order to help them navigate through this period of change. Here are some strategies on how to help your child with anxiety cope:
Communication is key
Maintaining open and honest communication with your child is crucial. Encourage them to share their feelings and fears with you. Be understanding and empathetic, reassuring them that their emotions are valid and that you’re there to support them.
Talking openly with your child can be challenging, especially as you grapple with your own feelings around your divorce but it’s still necessary. Here are some suggestions:
It’s important to be honest with your child. Explain the situation in an age-appropriate manner and assure them that the divorce is not their fault. Avoid sharing too many details or blaming the other parent, as it may create confusion or resentment.
Reassure them of your love
Let your child know that your love for them remains constant, regardless of the divorce. Reassure them that both you and your ex-spouse will always be there to support and care for them.
Avoid involving them in conflicts
Shield your child from any conflicts or disagreements between you and your ex-partner. Engaging them in adult matters can be harmful, confusing, and increase their stress levels. Instead, focus on co-parenting effectively and resolving conflicts in a respectful and private manner.
Create a stable environment
Divorce can bring about feelings of instability for a child. Routines can provide a sense of stability and predictability for your child during a time of change. Try to maintain regular schedules for meals, bedtime, school, and other activities as much as possible.
If possible, try to keep your child in the same home or neighborhood to minimize disruptions. If a move is necessary, involve your child in the process and help them adjust to their new surroundings.
Validate their emotions
Let your child know that it’s okay to feel sad, angry, or confused about the divorce. Avoid dismissing or invalidating their emotions, as this can increase their anxiety. Instead, offer them a safe space to express themselves and provide reassurance that their feelings are normal and that they’re not alone.
Validating your child’s feelings and emotions is one of the most respectful and loving things you can offer your child. Here are some ways to do so:
Pay attention to what your child is saying and actively listen to their thoughts and feelings. Give them your undivided attention and show genuine interest in their perspective.
Encourage open communication
Create a safe and non-judgmental space for your child to express their emotions. Let them know that it’s okay to feel sad, angry, confused, or any other emotions they may be experiencing.
Avoid minimizing or dismissing their emotions
Avoid saying things like “You shouldn’t feel that way” or “Just be strong.” Instead, validate their emotions by saying things like “I understand that you’re feeling sad, and it’s okay to feel that way.”
Seek professional help if needed
If your child’s anxiety is severe or persists for an extended period of time, it may be necessary to seek professional help. Going through a divorce can be an incredibly challenging and stressful experience for children. It’s important to prioritize their emotional well-being.
A therapist who specializes in working with children can help them navigate their emotions and develop coping strategies.
Here are some steps you can take when considering whether to seek professional help for your child during a divorce:
Recognize the signs
Pay attention to any changes in your child’s behavior, emotions, or academic performance. Look out for signs of anxiety, depression, withdrawal, aggression, or poor adjustment to the divorce.
Consult with the school
Reach out to your child’s teacher or school counselor to discuss your concerns about your child’s emotional well-being. They may be able to provide insight into your child’s behavior and recommend appropriate resources.
Ask for recommendations
Seek recommendations from friends, family, or other professionals who have gone through divorce and have sought help for their children. They can provide valuable insights and recommendations for therapists or counselors.
Interview potential therapists
Meet with potential therapists to discuss your child’s needs and ask questions about their approach to counseling. Make sure they have experience working with children and specifically with divorce-related issues.
Get involved in the counseling process
If possible, involve both you and your ex-spouse in the process of seeking professional help for your child. It’s important for both parents to be on the same page and actively participate in the therapy process for the best outcomes for your child.
Support the therapy process
Create a supportive and open environment for your child to express their feelings and experiences about the therapy process. Encourage regular attendance at therapy sessions and actively participate in any recommended activities or exercises to support your child’s healing and growth.
Consider support groups
Look for support groups for children of divorce in your local community. Group therapy can provide an additional source of support and understanding for your child as they navigate the challenges of divorce.
Keep track of your child’s progress in therapy and communicate regularly with the therapist. Ask for updates on your child’s well-being, any concerns or challenges, and recommendations for additional support or interventions.
Teach your child the importance of self-care and provide them with tools to manage their anxiety. Teach your child healthy ways to cope with stress and difficult emotions. This can include practicing deep breathing exercises, journaling, or engaging in creative activities like art or music. It can also include hobbies, sports, or spending time with friends. Help them identify what activities bring them joy and relaxation.
Keep the lines of communication open with the other parent
It’s important to maintain a healthy co-parenting relationship with your ex-spouse. You should both be involved in supporting your child emotionally. Regularly communicate about your child’s progress, any concerns, and strategies to help alleviate the anxiety.
Be a role model
Lead by example. Show your child the importance of self-care by practicing it yourself. Take time to engage in activities that bring you joy and promote self-care. This will not only benefit your own well-being but also help your child see the value and importance of taking care of themselves.
Helping your child with anxiety through a divorce can be challenging, but with the right strategies, it’s possible to provide them with the support they need. By keeping communication lines open, providing reassurance, and seeking professional help if necessary, you can help your child navigate this difficult time and build resilience.
Remember, every child is unique and may respond to divorce and anxiety differently. Be patient and understanding as your child processes their emotions. Ultimately, your love and support will play a significant role in helping your child manage their anxiety and thrive despite the challenges of divorce.
Begin Online Therapy for Kids and Teens with Anxiety in Illinois and now Florida.
As an experienced and caring therapist, I love providing counseling for anxiety. To start your child’s counseling journey, call me at 224-236-2296 or email Helena@BrieflyCounseling.com to schedule a FREE 20-minute consultation.
Whether you’re on the North Shore, in Naperville, Chicago, Champaign, Barrington, Libertyville, Glenview, or downstate Illinois, I can help.
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Schedule your appointment or consultation today. I look forward to working with your child to quickly and effectively help them in activating their strengths, resources, and resilience, in order to live with confidence and hope.