The proverb, “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil,” is good advice for divorcing parents. Children learn in many ways. They learn from your actions, from the things they hear you say and from the instructions you give them.
Unfortunately, it is easy to do or say things that can unwittingly harm your children during a stressful divorce.
How do children react to conflict between their parents?
Seeing or hearing their parents at odds with each other can cause turmoil in a child. Here are three ways they may react to this:
- Aggression: If you and your spouse argue or act aggressively toward each other, do not be surprised if your children copy this behavior. Children learn by imitation. They may do it to you, or they may do it to other people.
- Avoidance: “I’m fine” is the classic teenage answer when you ask your child how they are. However, saying they are fine does not mean they are fine. It can be challenging for your children to process your divorce. If your child changes the subject every time you try to have a cozy chat about their wellbeing, it is a sign of avoidance. Try to create a situation in which they are more amenable to opening up to you. Consider going out for the day or away for the weekend. The change of environment may encourage openness.
- Articulation: It takes strength to bring up what is really bothering you. Many adults are not capable of this, let alone children. If your child does have the courage and maturity to tell you they are not happy with something, listen with the respect and compassion they deserve.
As parents, you set the example for your children. If you work together to create a parenting plan, it shows your children that even in the most difficult moments of life, there are ways to work things out in a calm and civilized manner.