Divorce impacts children; even adult children of parents who divorce often report struggling with the dissolution of their parents’ marriage. The most vulnerable individuals in family dealing with divorce are the dependent children.
When I work with kids whose parents are splitting up, we often start by learning and implementing the “7 C’s,” listed below:
I didn’t CAUSE it.
I can’t CURE it.
I can’t CONTROL it.
I can CARE for myself
By COMMUNICATING my feelings,
Making healthy CHOICES, and
By CELEBRATING myself.
I like the 7 C’s list because it uses terms that most children understand and can relate to reflexively. Most kids do fear that they caused, or at least might have prevented, their parents’ break-up, and fanaticize about somehow getting their parents back together. This list acknowledges the fears and hopes of children, but then refocuses the dialogue and points out what they can control about their life.
If you are divorced and your child is struggling, be reassured that it doesn’t mean you’re doing anything “wrong” as a parent! Developmentally, it makes sense that most young children truly fear that their behaviors contributed to their parents’ decision to divorce. An important developmental task is learning to understand cause and effect; children draw their first conclusions about cause and effect by observing and interacting with their physical environment and as they grow older and more capable of abstract thought, they learn to look for cause of effect with thoughts and feelings too. Because of the way their brains are developing, children often wonder things such as: “If they hadn’t argued with my sister would my parents have stayed together?” Referring to a list like the 7 C’s when discussing your children’s fears can transform negative feelings to more hopeful and realistic ones.