Families Change Parent Guide to Separation & Divorce

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Changed behaviour and acting out

Feelings are not wrong. However, how a person chooses to act on them can produce good or bad results. Children and teens may regress to earlier behaviours or act out during a divorce. These behaviours can include:

Children Teens
  • Can’t think of anything else
  • Can’t sleep
  • Have nightmares
  • Get really mad at people for little things
  • Wet the bed
  • Skip school
  • Party
  • Drink
  • Do drugs
  • Break the law

Your teens need to know that the types of acting out listed above cover up the feelings temporarily, but the feelings always come back. These behaviours add to the problems they are already dealing with.

There are many healthy ways to deal with feelings. Children can talk about their feelings as often as they would like with parents, friends, brothers and sisters, and/or relatives. A neutral person like a counsellor can also be helpful. Writing about feelings and experiences in a journal helps some people to feel better. Exercise and creative activities can also help. Crying also provides a good release for feelings. There is nothing wrong with crying. And there is nothing wrong with not crying either.

Avoid using food and other treats to make your children’s feelings go away. Not only does this not work in the long run, but it also can set up unhealthy patterns of responding to feelings. Do not try to buy your children’s loyalty out of your own insecurity.

Don’t be afraid to ask for professional help, particularly if you or one of your children are feeling depressed, out of control, or extremely anxious. Other signs that help is needed include difficulty managing anger and any suspicion of suicide.

Children, teens, and adults should seek help if their strong emotions last for a long time and are getting in the way of normal activities. Teens who are depressed, having trouble managing anger, feeling extremely anxious, thinking about hurting themselves or escaping, or just feeling out of control, should get help.

Kids and teens can call the Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868 toll-free from anywhere in Canada, or they can visit the Kids Help Phone website. Post these numbers near your telephone. Also, ensure that your teens understand that these numbers are for them too, not just younger children. Make sure your children and teens understand that these numbers are available any time they want to talk to someone. It doesn’t need to be an emergency.

Coping strategies for children

Children need to know about the different strategies they can use to help them cope with the separation or divorce. The Strategies section of the Teens Guide, and Tools in the Kids Guide, were developed with this in mind. They learn what to do if they feel caught in the middle of their parents' conflict, how and when to speak up, tips for coping with the separation or divorce, and what to do if there is abuse in the home.