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DIVORCE   The statement that 50% of marriages end in separation or divorce is frightening. When it involves you the statistic becomes 100%. And being happily married now does not mean that you are immune to problems in the future. Of course, the hardest hit in a divorce or separation is the child. Your child is totally dependent on you for love, shelter and food. When the marriage breaks up, your child feels more deserted then you. What is he feeling? How can you help him through this ordeal? What should and should you not do to minimize this emotional trauma?

All children react to separation or divorce similar to bereavement experienced after a parent's death. The way your child handles this death of the family depends on his age and level of development. Infants, toddlers and preschoolers may have regression, separation fears and sleep problems. Symptoms, such as temper tantrums, irritability, and withholding stool, may occur. Other symptoms include aggression (hitting and biting), hyperactivity and thumb sucking.

Young school children may become hyperactive, develop considerable sadness or loose urine and bowel control. School problems, such as poor performance or school phobia, may develop. There may be a fear of loosing the other parent. Older children and adolescents may become depressed, lonely or develop a low self-esteem. Sometimes there are feelings of being hurt, anxiousness or shame. Antisocial behavior may develop. This may include lying, petty theft, delinquency, substance abuse, poor peer relationships, and running away. Often there is poor school performance.

All children of a divorced or separated family are angry to some extent. They may develop somatic complaints, such as stomach pain, headache or worsening of asthma. They have difficulty understanding what is going on. Many children assume that they were responsible for causing the separation or divorce. There are worries about the future, such as financial security or their own marital relationship. It is especially hard for you to help your child through this difficult time. You as the parent often experience loneliness, guilt, anger, low self-esteem, and anxiety about the future. It's not hard to understand how difficult it is to be an understanding and supportive parent at a time like this.

There are things you can do to help your child during this difficult time. Emphasize that the separation or divorce is entirely your decision and not the fault of the child. In situations of divorce, explain that you made every effort to preserve the marriage. Your child must also understand that the decision is irreversible. Be open to your child's questions and prepared to answer them repeatedly. Some questions he may ask are, "Where will I live? What school will I go to? Where will my parents live? When will I see my parents?" Reassure your child that both parents still love him and that you will meet his needs. Do not give your child too many new responsibilities. Don't make him the "new man of the house." You should also not view your child as a new companion or confidant with whom to share financial and personal worries.

Do not force your child to take sides. Avoid using your child as a pawn, messenger, or spy. Try to avoid moving the child to a new home or new school. Remember birthdays and holidays. Phone calls, letters, cards or an occasional gift are very important. They will help your child feel close and loved by you. Attend special activities in which the child is a participant. Keep promises. Maintain discipline. Plan visits by the non-custodial parent ahead of time so as not to disrupt the child's regular routines and plans. And keep in mind your child's real interests. The custodial parent should make herself scarce during the visit. Don't make visiting days a time to discuss major issues concerning the children.

Both parents must understand that although divorce ends their spousal relationship, their parental relationship to the child remains of utmost importance. All marriages have times when parents don't see eye to eye. At times these problems may be more frequent then other times. If you wish, feel free to call or come in to discuss these problems as they relate to your child. I also can recommend books on the subject of divorce and stepfamilies. The sooner your child can adjusts to these problems the better. I will be happy to speak to each parent individually or with both parents together. This way we can help to do all we can for your child.

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