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Lifestyle

May 4, 2014

Watch for emotional themes in children experiencing divorce

Dear Doctor,

We are in the process of getting a divorce. We have three children and want them to share our lives even though we will be apart. The divorce is friendly if there can be such a thing. We have been in marriage counseling, and this is a joint decision on our part. My question is simple. What should we watch for in our kids? Incidentally, they are two boys and a girl. The boys are twins and ten years old. Our daughter is seven.

Thinking Ahead

Dear Thinking,

Children always have silent and brooding thoughts in the midst of divorce.

On the surface one can watch out for changes in mood, school performance and the like. More important are emotional themes parents should watch out for.

Most important among these is: Is this my fault? Children often see their behavior as the cause of the divorce. They may think they have precipitated a strain on family life. Somehow, and quite irrationally, they see themselves as the cause of the breakup. They need to be directly reassured that they have nothing to do with it.

Children worry about parents leaving. If one parent has left the house, they wonder if the other one will go too. Abandonment is a real and very scary issue. Making the children aware of your abiding concern and steadfastness is critical. They may test you on this.

They also want to know do Mommy and Daddy still love each other? The children have been aware they were desired and were the product of love. Therefore, they want to be certain parents will continue to care for them as a couple even though the relationship has changed.

The cardinal rule is to be supportive and do not involve the children in your issues with your former spouse. As far as possible keep it neutral.

If things get complicated do not hesitate to get help.

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Dr. Larry Larsen is an Andover psychologist. If you would like to ask a question, or respond to one, you can email Dr. Larry Larsen at lrryllrsn@CS.com.

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