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Do Kids Think They're to Blame in a Divorce?

by A. Low

Divorce is one of the most stressful experiences an adult can go through. Even when a couple parts ways on relatively good terms, the legal issues and logistics of living separately can feel like too much to handle. Children, too, must adapt to these drastic changes, and sometimes they wonder if they could have done something differently to keep their parents from divorcing. Although divorce stems from a discord between two adults, children may still blame themselves.

Why Kids Blame Themselves

Oprah.com says children often blame themselves because they feel they could have done something to prevent the divorce. In a sense, this allows them a feeling of power over a situation outside their control. KidsHealth states that kids may feel like, if they had earned better grades, behaved better or done more chores, they could have had some bearing over their parents’ relationship. Some kids will hear their parents disagreeing about child-rearing, which will also make them feel like they are to blame.

Reassuring Your Child

It’s your job as a parent to help your child understand reality in order for him to stop blaming himself. For example, if one parent has abandoned the family due to drug addiction, the child may think he is unlovable because his parent does not express interest in him. The sober parent, then, should explain that sometimes adults have personal problems that keep them from giving their children the attention they deserve. Oprah.com recommends emphasizing that it is always the parents' responsibility to provide love and attention -- and not the child’s responsibility to force it out of them. Children are not to blame for adults’ mistakes. Even when the difficulties of child-rearing contribute to parents’ problems, it is important for children to know they’re not the direct cause of divorce. It always comes back to the marriage itself; healthy couples can weather the difficulties of child-rearing together, but unhealthy couples cannot.

Warning Signs

There are a few behaviors in children that may indicate they blame themselves for a divorce or that they are experiencing unhealthy levels of stress. If your child is afraid to show affection to one parent or another when you both are in the room, she may fear being disloyal to one parent. This is unhealthy because children should still be able to have good relationships with both parents after they split. When a child withdraws or behaves in a way completely different from her true personality, this could be a warning sign that she is unable to process her complicated emotions. Family or individual therapy can be extremely helpful if you are willing to invest some time and patience in it.

Ongoing Coping

As your children try to cope with having divorced parents, there are steps you can take to help them address their emotions honestly and work through any problems. First, according to KidsHealth, it is essential that you do not have legal talk or heated discussions in front of the children -- especially when these talks involve antagonizing the other parent. Keep your child’s new routine as consistent as possible, and work on spending even small amounts of quality time with each child. Honest conversations often occur spontaneously when children and parents are engaging in everyday life together. Also, resist the temptation to seek comfort from your children (even if your children want to emotionally support you). Instead, rely on a good friend or therapist for venting your frustrations.

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