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8 Signs Your Child Is Under Emotional Distress From Divorce

Wondering how to break the news of your divorce to your children?

This is a challenging conversation to have with your children as you likely want to be honest, but may be unaware of what is appropriate to share. When telling your children that you are getting a divorce, you want to keep the conversation as simple as possible.

Oversharing the messy details or allowing your child to witness adult arguments creates what is known as the parentified child. The effects of this can have a lasting impact on how your child approaches life.

A parentified child is one who has to grow up before they are ready, and take on adult problems and emotional responsibility for their parents. When this occurs the child grows up too fast and finds themselves struggling to adapt to life in a healthy way.

Here Are 8 Signs Your Child Is Becoming A Parentified Child:

1. Constant Worry And Anxiety

It is safe to say that when a child feels the need to take on a caretaker role, they are more likely to feel stressed. Under normal circumstances, it is typical for your child to feel stressed about homework or an upcoming sporting event, but it is cause for concern when anxiety consumes their day-to-day life.

Children can develop anxiety after a stressful event, such as their parents’ divorce. Relying on your child for emotional support can be detrimental to their mental and physical health leading to extreme bouts of anxiousness.

2.Social Isolation

Humans are social creatures. We need to interact with others in order to facilitate healthy relationships and emotional development. However, a parentified child does not always have this necessary interaction in their life. Because they are constantly exposed to issues that are well beyond their maturity level, parentified children do not spend time with others their own age. This means they do not learn social norms, make enough friends, and can experience severe loneliness and physiological illness as they age.

3.Need To Be In Control

There are a number of ways that your child could display control issues. This could include bossiness, stubbornness, or defiance. Your child’s need to exert control over their own lives may be a result of feeling out of control at home. If you notice that your child is becoming increasingly rigid or controlling, this may be an indication that their needs are not being consistently met.

4.Sense Of Entitlement

A heightened sense of entitlement in your child is an indication that your parent-child relationship is becoming unbalanced. After divorce, parents tend to overcompensate in order to prove their love for their child. Overcompensation can include rewarding, constant gift-giving, and excessive praise for otherwise expected tasks. This is usually a result of a parent’s desire to be their child’s best friend.

This sense of entitlement can be harmful for your child’s future because they will firmly believe that their parents owe them whatever they want. This eventually gets displaced onto their other relationships as well making it challenging for them to have healthy relationships.

5.Struggling To Let Loose

If your child has been parentified, they may struggle with finding a balance between responsibility and fun. They are more drawn to the role of caretaker, and they will often only feel worthy when they are providing for others. Because of this, your child will prefer structure over fun, which is not typical for a developing child.

You can help your child with this struggle by adding more moments of safe play in their life. Try playing a board game or running outside with them.

6.Feelings Of Responsibility That Aren’t Age-Appropriate

This occurs when a child feels obligated to take on the roles in the household that are supposed to be reserved for adults. They may worry that their parents and siblings will fall apart without them. This can also occur when the child feels responsible for the emotional well-being of their parent. For example, they may be depended on for emotional support from a parent, but not get any in return. As a result, parentified children come across as extremely mature and capable, but they are missing some crucial parts of their childhood in the process which later lead to regression in life.

7.Unhealthy Relationships

Children who grew up being the emotional support of their parents are likely to repeat the same patterns of behavior in their adult relationships. Parentified children learn that caregiving is the most effective way of showing love, so they tend to act as care-givers for their partners and friends.

Parentified children are also more likely to be involved in unhealthy or abusive relationships later on. During childhood, they developed a distorted image of what love is support to look like, so many believe that if they give their all to someone, they will be loved in return.

8.Symptoms Of Depression

Unlike physical trauma, parentification is invisible. However, this does not mean it is any less harmful. Children who have to take on adult responsibilities are more likely to experience depression as adults. If you suspect your child is growing up too quickly, be on the lookout for symptoms such as withdrawal, lack of energy, or suicidal ideations.

Parentification occurs when a child lacks a role model in the home. They are not given the time, care, support, or security that they need to develop and thrive. In order to keep this from happening, establish boundaries that prevent the weight of divorce from falling on your child.


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