Claudia is 11 years old and she has changed. The once outgoing child is now refusing to come out of her bedroom. Her grades have dropped. She has quit all after school activities. She does not sing happy songs or smile any more. And Claudia is gaining weight….a lot of it!
Claudia’s parents are getting divorced. Claudia has been left alone with her feelings and she is having a difficult time coping. She is dealing with the situation in the only way that she knows how.
When Claudia was a baby and her parents put her down for a nap, sometimes she was fussy. Her parents would check to see if she had a dirty diaper, if she needed to be burped, if she was too hot or too cold, and when all else failed, they fed her again. This taught Claudia that when she was uncomfortable and all else failed to make her feel better then she should eat. It makes sense that in all this turmoil Claudia is gaining weight. Divorce is painful for everyone involved, but who is taking care of the children when parents are having a hard enough time taking care of themselves? In many cases the parents revert back to childish ways with personal attacks and outright fights in front of the child. This is very confusing and frightening.
Parents must recognize and address the needs of each child in the family and not all children will react in the same way at the same time on the same day. Each child needs even more support when faced with this stress so if a parent is unable to provide this support due to their own emotional state then they MUST find resources for their children.
A child may become defiant in all areas of their life. They will throw tantrums or have catastrophic reactions in the simplest of circumstances. A parent may be called into school to address the child’s unusual behavior or plummeting grades. The child may experience sleeping disorders including insomnia or night terrors. They may live out their fears through nightmares, many children will be convinced that their greatest fears will come true. All of this is terrifying for a child. The child’s eating patterns may also change. Many children will quit eating while others will use food for comfort. The child may develop physical aches and pains that are very real for the child and due to their emotional state, this may make it difficult for a definitive diagnosis. Physical complaints should never be dismissed without investigation. The child may regress to comfort measures that include baby talk, thumb sucking, hair twirling and they may become very clingy. Some children may even return to wetting the bed. A change in personality may be noted and they may become very rigid in their routines.
This child desperately wants to return to a time when they felt safe and the parents took care of them. They are attempting to console and soothe themselves. When a child does not feel safe, the world is a very scary place and they need trusted people in their life-make certain that these people are trustworthy so no one takes advantage of your child during this chaotic time. When scared, most children want reassurance from physical touch and the child will search for it even if it means becoming promiscuous. The child may also seek to self-medicate using alcohol or drugs to numb the pain that they feel. They may develop anxiety, panic attacks along with depression. They may seek ways to escape this pain displaying extreme, daredevil behavior almost as a death wish or they may consider suicide as a viable option in ending their suffering permanently.
Kids live for today. They do not see tomorrow and that is why adults must be active in their lives. Adults have to watch out for the children until the child grows and develops into a responsible adult. This takes many years and cannot be sped up. Yet, when a family breaks up from divorce many times the child is forced to take on adult roles that they just are not ready to undertake. It is too overwhelming for them and they feel all alone.
Claudia needed to know that she was not the only child experiencing this life altering situation. During Camp Jump Start she was able to participate in small group discussion where she heard stories from other youth who were experiencing similar circumstances. She no longer felt alone. In an attempt to help Claudia through her grief, the book “Divorce: Did You Even Think About Me? Letters of Hurt and Healing” was written. It is a book that explores the effects of divorce on children, from the child’s point of view. Through the eyes of children of divorce, a new perspective emerges showing how their lives are affected, often more than the lives of the people who are divorcing.
This book will help a child realize that they are not alone. The child will find that their emotions are normal and may find comfort from one of the responses in the book from a child who is in a similar circumstance. This book will also help adults hear the voice of their child when they consider divorce. Divorce must be a last resort after all else fails in trying to solve adult problems. Hopefully one of these stories will resonate and give guidance during this difficult period in life for all involved. We must always remember it is not the child’s fault and they need the parent to take care of them, and if the parent cannot, then the parent needs to find someone who can help the child. The ending of this book also comes from the children’s collective thoughts when divorce is necessary. If we listen, the child will always tell us what they need.