Divorce can be difficult for everyone involved, but especially for children. It is normal to have many different emotions when facing the end of a marriage and a new life situation, but it is important that parents recognize any signs that their child might not be managing the divorce process as well as they could. In this blog post, we will discuss some of the common signs that may indicate your child is having difficulty dealing with a divorce.
1. Drop in Academic Performance
Academic performance can fluctuate, but when a child's marks drop drastically, intervention is needed. This decline could be caused by sadness or difficulty concentrating on school due to underlying stress from events like divorce. It is important for parents to communicate with their child or to seek counseling for the child to address issues related to their academic decline. Examples of academic decline may include:
- Sudden and dramatic drop in grades
- Forgetfulness or carelessness about completing assignments
- Struggling to concentrate on homework
- Difficulty paying attention in school
If you notice these changes in your child’s academic performance, asking your child about how they are feeling can sometimes help. Additionally, reaching out to the school’s counselor or speaking with your child’s doctor for a therapist referral may be the next steps. When seeking a therapist, look for a professional experienced in working with children coping with divorce.
2. Emotional Outbursts & Changes in Behavior
Emotional and behavioral changes can occur in children aged five and up during a divorce. Regressed behavior, such as temper tantrums or being difficult to reason with can all be signs that a child is having difficulty coping with their situation. For older children such as teens, they may have emotional outbursts that involve screaming.
In both age groups, changes in behavior may involve getting in trouble at school. Children may turn their anger or stress onto their peers and initiate arguments with classmates. Children may also act out as a way to seek attention or as a method to express their emotions. Keeping a close eye on your child’s behavior and monitoring reports from their school is important to help determine if your child is struggling to cope with divorce.
3. Eating Issues
The emotional toll divorce can take on a child may sometimes manifest in their eating habits. This is well-known to be a very serious problem as different types of eating disorders can develop in teens, such as anorexia or bulimia. Younger children may begin to avoid food or exhibit extreme picky eating habits that may lead to ARFID (avoidant resistant food intake disorder). Binge-eating can also be seen in some cases where children try to find comfort through food. Parents should make sure to observe changes in their child's behavior, especially concerning their eating patterns, which if left unattended for too long could lead to health issues down the line.
Signs your child may have easting issues include:
- Food avoidance/eating very little
- Over consumption of food
- Not wanting to eat in public or in front of others
- Strict dieting or fasting
- Going to the bathroom right after eating
- Excessive exercise
- Dramatic changes in weight
If you notice changes in your child’s eating habits, consulting with a health care provider can help determine the next steps for your child’s health and wellbeing.
4. Sleeping Issues
Children sometimes struggle to adjust to a new living environment and different routines among both parents. For some kids, the stress of these changes can lead to insomnia, and for others, it might cause too much sleep—where a child might use sleep to repress their emotions or unconsciously as a physiological response to psychological trauma.
If a child spends time at both parents’ homes, it's important for divorced parents to share the same routines when caring for their children, so that the child does not end up with conflicting sleep patterns. In extreme cases where anxiety or depression leads to serious disruptions in a child's sleeping habits, it may be helpful to consult a pediatrician who can offer advice on potential treatments.
Signs of sleep trouble in younger children may include:
- Bedtime refusal
- Frequent “curtain calls” after bed (requests for drinks, stories, etc.)
- Difficulty napping
- Trouble waking up in the morning
Signs of sleep issues in older children may involve:
- Mood swings
- Aggressive behavior
- Sleeping for long periods on weekends
- Trouble waking up in the morning
- Falling asleep easily during the day
5. Separation Anxiety
Children may also begin to develop separation anxiety after a divorce. The MayoClinic defines this condition as “recurrent and excessive distress about anticipating or being away from home or loves ones” as well as “constant, excessive worry about losing a parent or another loved one to illness or disaster.”
Other symptoms of separation anxiety can include:
- Refusing to go to school
- Frequent stomach aches, headaches, and other physical complaints
- Repeated nightmares with themes of separation
- Not wanting to be home alone and without a parent or loved one in the house
Typically, separation anxiety is normal for infants and toddlers and often is grown out of by age three. However, this disorder can continue and occur in teens as well. If your child begins to exhibit signs of separation anxiety, talk to your child’s pediatrician or other healthcare provider to seek help.
6. Withdrawal or Loss of Interest in Activities
Children often react to stressful situations such as divorce with emotions like withdrawal and loneliness. They may distance themselves from family, friends, or activities they usually love. Although this behavior may seem worrying, it is important to remember that your child's coping mechanisms are normal in these circumstances; they are just trying to avoid the difficult feelings associated with their parents' separation. Try to talk to your child and support them where you can during this time. Provide them with a safe space where they can express their thoughts and feelings openly and without judgement.
In severe cases, social withdrawal and/or loss of interest in activities can be a sign of depression. Other symptoms of depression may include:
- Changes in energy such as becoming sluggish or tense
- Difficulty paying attention
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Self-injury or destructive behavior
If you suspect your child is showing symptoms of depression, speaking with their doctor or primary healthcare provider can help you find the right care, such as therapy or medication management.
No matter how amicable the divorce, it’s important to keep a close eye on your child during and after the process. Often, children will internalize their feelings and not show signs that they are struggling. By monitoring their behavior and looking for changes in eating or sleeping habits, moodiness, and school performance, you can be alert to any potential problems so you can address them quickly. If you think your child is having difficulty coping with your divorce, don’t hesitate to reach out to their healthcare provider or school counselor for help.
Seeking Help from a Divorce Attorney
If you have questions about divorce, child custody, and/or child support, out attorneys at Conner & Roberts, PLLC can be here to help you. With nearly over 40 years of experience, our lawyers can help provide guidance, represent you in court, and find solutions to your unique situation.
Call today at (423) 299-4489 or schedule a free consultation with us online.