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Acting out: Children's behavior problems after divorce

After a divorce, there is a potential for a child to start acting out. Sometimes, they do this as a way to express their emotions. Other times, they do it to try to hurt their parents. In any case, it's important to get to the bottom of the behaviors and work through the trauma that has caused your child's attitude to change.

Children develop differently, and some won't be as mature as others. Depending on their age, they may not yet be old enough to have experienced situations requiring them to become more mature, or to develop empathy or other emotional supports.

If they're not mature, they may not know how to handle their emotions in a healthy manner. Without emotional maturity, some children and teenagers begin acting in unusual ways to gain attention or to try to get relief from their feelings.

What can you do to help your child or teen if they're struggling with divorce?

If you notice that your child is acting abnormally or having new behavior issues that line up with the timing of your divorce, don't write off the situation as a coincidence. Your child could be feeling angry, hurt or sad. Confusion and frustration may also play a role in their unusual behaviors. The steps you take next could help or hurt the situation, so you must tread cautiously.

As a parent, you need to monitor your child for more dangerous acts, such as lashing out in anger or becoming depressed. If left unchecked, particularly volatile children may go on to commit crimes or get into trouble with the law, which can worsen the situation. Try your best to keep an open dialog with your child. You should be able to communicate and talk about your child's actions and how they can better express themselves in a healthy manner.

If certain unwanted behaviors continue despite your best efforts to talk through your child's problems, then it may be time to invest in a professional. Therapy is not uncommon among children going through divorce. In fact, it can be a substantial help for children to have someone else to talk to who isn't their mother or father.

Therapy sessions come in a few forms, so you can look into having family sessions or individual sessions for your child. Getting your child the right help and support early on is the key to helping them move past the negative feelings they've developed and boosting their confidence moving forward.

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