This is obviously a massive topic and a very complex one. It is very important to point out that children can react very differently to situations and no two families are the same either. It is also important to emphasise that children become stressed in any situation where they don’t feel secure, so it can happen just as often in families where the parents decide not to split up.
What I am trying to say is that whether you have decided to separate or stay together as a couple, children pick up on everything, even if there are not raging arguments, silence and a lack of demonstrative affection between parents will still affect your children.
What encompasses security to a child?
Put very simply, it is a regular routine of eating, sleeping, going to school and leisure time with positive input and love from supportive parents/carers, family and friends. This is really not rocket science and adults have the same basic needs, but it can be very hard for parents to see past their own problems and recognise how certain behaviours may be affecting their children.
In the words of a counsellor and specialist in human relationships, Ian Wallace;
“It’s generally accepted that the four things that the young people need are;
- To be loved by both parents not just in words but also in actions.
- To be secure and know when they are where they are possibly on a shared calendar.
- For both parents to be able to communicate respectfully, for the benefit of the children, in talking about their world and how that separation affects them.
- Never promise them anything which cannot happen or is untrue.
If you can do all these things at all times then you can make the separation a positive experience for them even if not for you.”
What are the signs of insecurity in children?
As mentioned earlier, insecurities don’t just occur in children from separated parents, but signs of emotional and behavioural problems in children are more common when their parents are fighting or separating. Anything unsettling or changes in situation will cause children to become very insecure if they are not reassured.
Children under 10 years will usually display their Insecurity by behaving like they are much younger. These regressions can come in the form of bedwetting, clinginess and nightmares, troubles with sleeping or disobedience. In the case of children from separated parents, this behaviour often happens before or after visits to the parent who is living apart from the family.
Teenagers may show their distress by rebelling or withdrawing into themselves. They may spend a lot more time round at friends’ houses and try to avoid contact where possible with either parent. They may find it difficult to concentrate at school and perhaps be attracted to new groups of friends who may skip school and experiment with drugs.
Examples of insecurity in under 10’s
‘Jack’, aged 7, an only child and has been brought up with his mother as the main carer. His parents split up when he was 6 and he became distressed, he became angry and aggressive on the one hand, lashing out at school. On the other side of it he had separation anxieties when parted from his mother for brief visits with his dad. He also started to wet the bed which was an obvious sign of stress to the new circumstances as he had been dry at night for a couple of years.
‘Patrick’, also aged 7, had a very different experience when his parents separated when he was 5. The parents were amicable and shared the care of Patrick equally after they divorced, both taking the responsibility of school runs and alternate weekends between the two houses that were in the same area.
However, although you would think this child would be less insecure than Jack, Patrick plainly displayed signs of his insecurity. Always crying and asking for the parent who wasn’t present, misbehaving after arriving at one house from the other.
In all cases like these, however subtle the insecurity seems to be, the strategy to help the child is always to reassure, keep regular timetables of care, never bad mouth the other parent or use the child as a weapon against your ex-partner/spouse.
Examples of Insecurity in Teenagers
Megan, aged 14, with two younger siblings, had a hard time adjusting to the separation of her parents, as she not only had to deal with a change of school, but was also leaned on emotionally by her mother.
Her younger siblings also looked to her for emotional security, which was hard to give as she was in turmoil herself. Megan began to have anxiety attacks and found it difficult to leave the house, the panic attacks and depression were her way of dealing with the stress and insecurity she was feeling as the weight of adult problems were too much for her.
Steve, aged 16, a younger brother and the only child left at home when his parents divorced struggled as it was a very messy and tempestuous break up. The parents did not hide their feelings of hatred for each other and there was a lot of shouting and fighting. Steve felt insecure and that it was all his fault that his parents were separating. He would often skip school to hang out with his mates, the parents were so wrapped up in their own problems they didn’t notice his decline at school.
Can Mediation Help?
Conflicts between parents where children and teens are involved can be resolved with mediation where unbiased advice on compromises can be put forward as well as allowing everyone involved to be heard.
If you would like to discuss mediation after separation or mediation especially for children then please call us on 0117 924 3880.