Treating PTSD for Children of Divorce

Guest post written by Ellen Margot Dwayne, reviewed and edited by Beth Tyson, MA

Photo credit: Pexels

Divorce can undoubtedly be stressful for couples, but children caught in the crossfire can also experience a lot of pain. According to research, 46% of children involved in high-conflict divorces have an increased risk of developing PTSD. Even if ending a marriage can result in a better living situation for children, the events surrounding the breakup can still impact their sense of safety and security. The path to healing can be a long and difficult journey, especially when a child has to go through it so young, so they must receive all the love and support they need to get by.


Uncovering the cause of trauma

There can be many sources of trauma for children when it comes to divorce proceedings, such as being a witness to parental conflict or having to be persistently questioned by strangers. Insights from Maryville University on child custody cases reveal how an extensive amount of a child’s life is evaluated in these custody battles, including their age, where their siblings are, and their relationship with their parents. Other than these factors, they might have to see a parent undergo mandatory drug testing and monitored visitation. This can create a lot of confusion and stress for a young child, who may not be fully aware of why their daily life has been disrupted in such a manner. Seeing the erosion of their parent’s relationship and then questioning if they might be to blame for it might take years to cope with and process.


Offering your child support

Once you’ve figured out the source of your child’s trauma, it will be easier to know how you can support them through it. Conflict in the household can resurface painful memories, and even speaking in raised voices could put the child under stress. It’s essential to keep the home as welcoming as possible and have it be a safe space for the child to express their feelings or worries. If both parents are capable caregivers, they should maintain a supportive and loving relationship with their children, easing concerns that they may have been at fault for the divorce.


What intensifies the trauma of divorce for children?

  • Speaking negatively about your ex-spouse in front of the children

  • Making the child feel guilty for time spent with the other parent

  • Unintentionally making children feel like a burden in your life by arguing about who is responsible for childcare

  • Extended separations from either parent

  • Expecting the child to talk to you about how they are feeling - you will need to broach the subject with them

  • Disliking or badmouthing your ex's new partner

As mentioned in the post "Helping Children Cope with Ambiguous Loss and Ongoing Uncertainty", seeing this upheaval of life as they know it can be tough to deal with for them. Acknowledge this feeling of loss and approach them with empathy, consistency, and understanding to help them untangle all these big emotions.

Reach out to experts

It’s not easy to extend help and support to your child, especially after experiencing a stressful situation yourself. An expert in dealing with PTSD in children can guide you on how to go about the healing process. Therapy can be a good way for them to express their feelings and make sense of them. Data shows that if a child is between the ages of 7 to 14 when the divorce happens, there’s a 16% increase in the risk of behavioral problems, but therapy can help older kids cope with the situation in a healthy manner. Witnessing their parents' divorce can bring about a lot of uncertainty for a child. It’s vital to be there every step of the way as you guide them through their PTSD and trauma. If you would like to hear more about trauma and divorce, you can check out this interview on the Mandy Mae Johnson Podcast.


For additional resources and education on childhood trauma, please join us in my private facebook community, Emotiminds. I would love to chat with you there!



Piece written for bethtyson.com

by Ellen Margot Dwayne

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