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Counseling Adolescents Dealing with Divorce

On Behalf of | Jun 6, 2023 | Divorce

According to some estimates, roughly 1 million children in the United States will experience their parents’ divorce each year. There are, of course, many reasons why divorce occurs. But from the child’s point of view, these reasons are often irrelevant. All that matters to the child is that they are now part of a “broken home.”

Obviously, divorce is a stressful time for everyone involved, including the parents. But adolescents require additional guidance and attention to get through this difficult period in their lives. With that in mind, here are a few general tips for counseling adolescents dealing with divorce:

Divorce Affects Children Differently at Different Ages

Divorce as a legal concept is something beyond the comprehension of younger children. But that does not mean they cannot understand that something is happening and that it represents a disruption to what they perceive as their normal life. Even a toddler can feel the effects when a parent is no longer living in the same house as them every day, which can lead to separation and stranger anxiety. This, in turn, can manifest itself through certain changes in behavior, such as refusing to sleep, eat, or use the toilet.

Older adolescents and teenagers may understand their parents have split and that one of them has moved out of the house. But they may still be unable to process the finality of this emotionally. For example, it is common for adolescents to fantasize about their parents getting back together. Many children also blame themselves for the divorce. If left unaddressed, such feelings can quickly lead to a downward spiral, as an adolescent may start to engage in delinquent and anti-social behaviors as a means of masking their emotional trauma.

Parents should therefore never assume that their children “can just handle” a divorce. Both parents must be prepared to deal with the emotional and psychological impact that such a major life event will have on their children. And they must be cognizant of how this trauma will manifest itself depending on the age and maturity level of the individual child.

Helping Children Adjust to Divorce

With respect to preteens and adolescents in particular, parents need to maintain open and honest channels of communication during the divorce process. Parents should emphasize that their children did not cause divorce or the failure of the marriage. Parents must also respect that their children will have strong feelings about what is happening. Such feelings should never be dismissed or disregarded.

Some other things to keep in mind:

  • Never lie to your children or give them false hope about a possible reconciliation.
  • Make it clear that the child is not expected to “choose” between their parents.
  • Do not use your children as sounding boards for your own emotional issues related to the divorce. Seek out professional counseling or talk to an age-appropriate friend or family member instead.
  • Try to keep a predictable routine for your adolescent while still being flexible enough to accommodate the ongoing changes in their lives.

Speak with a Tacoma Family Law Attorney Today

Every family handles divorce in their own way. Even under the best of circumstances, however, this is a difficult process for everyone involved. If you need professional guidance regarding the legal issues surrounding a divorce or separation, contact the Tacoma family law attorneys at Alliance Law Group today to schedule a consultation.