Each child is an individual and displays individual characteristics and habits that set him or her apart from every other person and child on earth. It is important to keep in mind, however, that there are certain behaviors that children dealing with the stresses and changes associated with post-divorce life that nearly all children exhibit. While you may excel at identifying these behaviors or may do well at responding to them, we would like to help make sure you can do both.
Today’s blog post will help you both identify these negative behaviors and suggest responses that can steer your child back towards proper behavior.
Withdrawn and sad behavior-
Children (depending on their age) wear their emotions on their sleeve. You can pick out a three year who is said out of a bunch of laughing, smiling kids. If your child is withdrawn after the divorce, spends more time by herself and just generally not as engaged in school or at home then you will need to know how to respond to your sad child.
My recommendation is that reassurance is key when handling a sad and withdrawn child. Make sure your child hears from you every day how much you love him and that you understand that they feel sad. There is nothing wrong with being sad. However, it is not good to be sad all the time and that your job is to help them to not be sad. Next, listen to your child and see their response. Based on their answer you may have secondary actions that need to be taken. If your child is withholding their true feelings you may need to encourage him to be truthful with you. Be patient and let your child talk.
Worried and apprehensive-
If your child does not want to attend school or does not want to sleep alone in their own bed he may feel uncertain about their present circumstances. Their life is probably at least somewhat different than it had been previously so if you can help maintain a consistency in terms of routine this should help get your child back on track. While we as adult may get frustrated with dong the same thing every day, children do not feel this way. It is that consistency of routine that helps your child to feel safe and protected. Do not shy away from this.
Also, do not shy away from your child’s feelings of unease. Do not attempt to disregard them or tell your child that they are not valid or needed. Allow your child to “feel their feelings” but help them to keep those feelings in perspective. This is hard for a child to do and they will need your assistance to do so. If your child tells you that they feel fine you need to believe him or her- to a point. If you believe that your child is feeling poorly and is just not comfortable sharing those feelings with you it makes sense to schedule a time for your child to speak to a professional counselor or therapist.
Acting out at school-
The one place that could offer your child a refuge of sorts is school. School is a place where your child is not physically with you or your ex-spouse and this obviously is a departure from the rest of your child’s life where you and your ex-spouse are omnipresent. Some children thrive in school after a divorce due to their wanting to throw their full attention into anything that does not involve a difficult home life.
On the other hand, your child may be struggling with behavior problems at school after your divorce. You cannot tolerate your child being disrespectful to teachers or other school personnel. These are adults that need to be treated with respect. It does not matter how your child feels on a particular day- respect needs to be shown on a daily basis.
With this in mind, make sure that your child is hearing similar messages from your ex-spouse. Do your best to make sure that discipline and the expectations surrounding discipline are consistent across the board for you and your ex-spouse. If your child senses that he or she can get away with a particular behavior either at your home or your ex-spouse’s, your child will take full advantage. Your child’s teachers will feel the brunt of this “gap” in discipline when you are not able to correct your child while in class.
How to structure visitation and possession schedules after a divorce
This section applies moreso to parents who are going through a divorce versus those who have already completed a divorce. While a modification of a visitation schedule that is not working well for a child is possible it is best to “get it right the first time” by negotiating and implementing a visitation/possession schedule that is beneficial for your child and you as parents as well in the divorce process.
Lots of people (attorneys included) have lots of opinions on what visitation schedule or structure works best. From my experience the answer to what is best depends almost entirely on your family’s specific dynamics. What works well for your neighbor may not work well for you, and vice versa. Work schedules, your child’s individual needs and other important factors will need to be evaluated on a case by case basis.
The bottom line that I have mentioned before and will reiterate now is that your child’s interests trump your own interests. If you know in your heart that a particular possession schedule will be more work for you but will benefit your child you should consider putting your own interests on the backburner in favor of helping your child achieve the sort of successes in their post divorce life that are integral to their development into a functioning and healthy adult.
If you have a younger child it may be that he or she needs to see the noncustodial parent with greater frequency so that they are able to continue to build a bond with this parent. Visits may need to be shorter but more frequent. Whether or not you and your ex-spouse are able to negotiate an agreement that works for all parties is a consideration that you all will need to make on an individual level.
Older children (teenagers) may benefit from having “short and sweet” visits with each parents while the school year is ongoing with longer visits in the summer when school is not in session. While I wouldn’t necessarily consult with your young child on coming up with a visitation schedule, your teenager may have an opinion that is worth consideration. It may be necessary to do this in situations where your child is active in sports, band or other extracurriculars.
Finally, if you are not able to work well with your ex-spouse on issues like this do not use your child as a go-between or intermediary. Remember that email or the various co-parenting websites that are in existence can allow you to communicate rapidly but without having to look at or speak to your ex-spouse. While you should always work to be able to directly communicate with the other parent, if you are not able to do so there are alternative means of communication available. There is no excuse for not communicating with your ex-spouse on these sort of important issues. Contact your divorce attorney for assistance or advice if you are experiencing problems in this area.
How to handle new relationships after divorce- tomorrow’s blog post topic
A question that I receive with great frequency in regard to divorce is how to best integrate a new romantic partner in your and your child’s life after a divorce has been completed. This is a touchy subject that requires delicate handling in order to make sure that your child and your new partner are comfortable. Come back tomorrow to read more about this subject.
If you have any immediate questions about this or any subject in family law please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC. We offer free of charge consultations with licensed family law attorneys six days per week.