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Broken Families & Child Behavior

author image Carly Seifert
Carly Seifert has been a piano instructor since 2001. She has also covered adoption and introducing children to the arts for "Montana Parent Magazine." Seifert graduated from University of California, Irvine with a Bachelor of Arts in drama.
Broken Families & Child Behavior
Divorce can hit children the hardest. Photo Credit: Goodshoot/Goodshoot/Getty Images

A broken family -- a family in which the parents are separated or divorced -- is disruptive to your child's life no matter how carefully you protect him. Over time, your little one will come to accept his new "normal," but recognize that it will take time for this acceptance to happen and that behavioral bumps will occur along the way.

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Your Child's Feelings

To understand your child's behavior, recognize the feelings that are causing his behavior., a website run by the American Academy of Pediatrics, reminds parents that -- except for in cases of abuse -- most children do not want their parents to divorce and view the end of their parents' marriage as a loss. Because of the disruption and change that divorce brings to a child's life, realize that changes in behavior are likely as he grieves the loss, and be prepared to help him cope effectively.

Younger Children

Author and pediatrician Dr. William Sears, at, says that a younger child's behaviors commonly regress after a divorce because of his uncertainties and worries that the other parent will no longer be around as much. Your little one might seem clingier than normal, might wake up with night terrors, perhaps suck his thumb again and might become prone to daytime toilet accidents or nighttime bed-wetting. Sometimes a young child will react angrily and become aggressive toward you or with his peers.

Older Children

School-age children and teens might blame themselves for their parents' divorce or feel resentment toward their parents for causing such a major change -- or both. An older child's academic performance can suffer and he might begin engaging in some forms of rebellious behavior such as hanging out with the wrong crowd or acting up during class.

How You Can Help

Sears urges parents to be reaffirming and loving toward their child after a divorce and to legitimize their child's feelings and behaviors. Reassure him often that the divorce is not his fault, but is the outcome of the way you and your partner feel about one another -- not about him. Even though several major changes can occur as a result of the divorce, including a new school and a new house, try to delay them for as long as possible. Work with your ex to maintain a civil relationship and keep rules consistent in both of your homes so your child has as much stability as possible.

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