Divorce is a challenging and emotional process for all parties involved, but it can be especially tough on children. Kids of divorce often grapple with a whirlwind of emotions, from sadness and anger to confusion and anxiety. Often they may be young and lack the language to fully express their emotions or they could fear if they do express their emotions a high-conflict parent will guilt them for having emotions altogether. When children are left suppressing their emotions, this leads to a road of unfavorable coping mechanisms.
Why Children Need To Express Their Emotions:
Emotional Coping: Divorce can be an emotionally challenging experience for children. Understanding and expressing their emotions allows them to cope with feelings of sadness, anger, confusion, and anxiety in healthy ways.
Emotional Intelligence: Developing emotional intelligence is a lifelong skill. Children who learn to recognize and manage their emotions during divorce are better equipped to handle future emotional challenges and develop strong interpersonal relationships.
Communication: Effective communication is vital in co-parenting situations. Children who can express their emotions are more likely to communicate their needs and concerns with both parents, promoting understanding and cooperation.
Reduced Anxiety: Suppressing or ignoring emotions can lead to increased anxiety and stress. Teaching children to express their emotions helps alleviate anxiety and promotes a sense of emotional well-being.
Behavioral Issues: Unexpressed emotions can manifest as behavioral issues. When children understand and communicate their feelings, they are less likely to act out or engage in problematic behaviors.
Relationships: The ability to understand and express emotions is essential for building healthy relationships. Children who develop this skill are more likely to establish positive relationships with peers, family members, and future romantic partners.
Empathy: Encouraging children to express their emotions helps them develop empathy for others. They become more attuned to the feelings of those around them, leading to improved social interactions.
Self-Awareness: Understanding and expressing emotions fosters self-awareness. Children learn to recognize their strengths, weaknesses, and triggers, which contributes to personal growth and self-esteem.
Long-Term Well-Being: Emotionally healthy children are more likely to become emotionally healthy adults. Teaching children to manage their emotions during divorce sets the foundation for their long-term well-being.
Academic Performance: Emotional turmoil can negatively impact a child's academic performance. When children can express their emotions and receive support, they are better able to focus on their studies.
Mental Health: Unaddressed emotional struggles can contribute to mental health issues. Teaching children to navigate and express their emotions can help prevent long-term mental health challenges.
Why Children Fear Speaking Up To A High-Conflict Co-Parent:
Fear of Rejection: HCCP often prioritize their own needs and desires over their children's feelings. Kids may fear that if they express their emotions, they will be dismissed, invalidated, or rejected by the narcissistic parent.
Guilt and Blame: HCCP may use guilt, blame, or manipulation to control their children. Children may worry that expressing their emotions will lead to accusations, making them feel responsible for their parent's reactions.
Emotional Abuse: HCCP can be emotionally abusive, using their children's vulnerabilities against them. Kids may fear that sharing their emotions will expose them to further emotional abuse or manipulation.
Inconsistent Responses: HCCP often provides inconsistent emotional support. Children may have learned that their parent's response to their emotions can vary greatly, making them hesitant to express themselves.
Loss of Control: HCCP typically seeks to maintain control and dominance. Children may fear that expressing their emotions will lead to a loss of control or retaliation from the narcissistic parent.
Negative Consequences: Children may have experienced negative consequences in the past when expressing their emotions to a narcissistic parent, such as punishment or withdrawal of affection, leading them to suppress their feelings as a survival mechanism.
Protective Instinct: Some children develop a protective instinct to shield themselves from the emotional volatility of a narcissistic parent. They learn to hide their emotions as a way to avoid conflict or harm which lead to unhealthy coping mechanism and personality masks.
Isolation: HCCP may isolate their children from external sources of support. This isolation can make children feel trapped and hesitant to share their emotions with others.
Normalization: Growing up with a HCCP may normalize unhealthy emotional dynamics. Children may not fully recognize that their parent's behavior is dysfunctional, making them less likely to seek support or express their emotions
How Can You Support Your Kids?
Being a safe space your children can come to when they are having a hard time is one of the most important roles you can have as a parent. An ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on, and a secure attachment will help your children navigate the ups and downs of their lifestyle changes between two homes. While your child may not feel safe in the high-conflict co-parent’s home, they can feel a sense of peace when they are with you. Keep in mind you will want to avoid relaying their emotional expression to the high-conflict co-parent as it can potentially be used against the child.
For younger children who haven’t quite developed the vocabulary to express difficult emotions, colors, and art can be used to help express their emotions.
Use the color wheel below to identify emotions related to colors.
Step by Step of Helping Children to Use Color For Emotional Expression:
1. Introduce Basic Emotions:
Start by introducing basic emotions like happiness, sadness, anger, fear, and surprise. You can use simple drawings or images to represent each emotion.
2. Associate Colors:
Assign a color to each emotion. For example:
3. Create an Emotion Chart:
Make an emotion chart with colored squares or circles next to each emotion. This chart will serve as a visual reference for kids to associate colors with emotions.
4. Use Art Activities:
Engage kids in art activities where they can express their emotions using colors.
Drawing: Encourage them to draw a picture that represents how they feel, using the associated color.
Painting: Provide paints and ask them to create a painting that reflects their emotions using the designated colors.
Coloring Books: Use coloring books with emotion-themed pages and encourage kids to color each emotion with the appropriate color.
Emotion Cards: Create emotion cards with images of facial expressions representing different emotions. Have kids match each card to the corresponding color on the emotion chart.
1. Emotion Stories:
Read books or stories that explore emotions. Discuss the emotions depicted in the story and ask kids to identify the corresponding colors.
2. Daily Check-Ins:
Incorporate a daily check-in routine where kids can share their feelings using colors. For instance, you can ask, "How do you feel today, and what color would you use to describe that feeling?"
Encourage role-playing scenarios where kids can act out different emotions using facial expressions and body language. Ask them to choose the corresponding color for their character's emotion.
4. Emotion Art Journal:
Provide kids with an emotion-themed journal where they can draw or write about their feelings using the associated colors. This can serve as a personal emotional outlet.
5. Discuss and Validate:
Whenever kids express their emotions using colors, take the time to discuss and validate their feelings. Create a safe and non-judgmental space for them to share.
For older children who can verbally express their emotions, it will be best to have emotionally safe conversations to help them process, validate their feelings, and problem-solve solutions, if necessary. Sometimes kids might just want to be heard and vent and other times they may want solutions.
Examples of Child’s Emotional Expression and Parental Validation:
1. Child: I don’t want to go to my Dad’s/Mom’s?
Parent: I understand it can be hard going back and forth between two homes. How come
you don’t want to go?
2 Child: I don’t like my step-siblings. I get zero time with my Mom/Dad.
Parent: It sounds like you may want more time with your Mom/Dad. How does it make you
feel when you don’t get bonding time with your Mom/Dad?
3. Child: Dad/Mom always talks bad about you when I’m at their house.
Parent: That must be hard to hear. How does that make you feel?
4. Child: Am I the reason you got divorced?
Parent: That’s a huge thought. I want to understand more about it. What makes you think
you’re the reason?
5. Child: I have no friends at my new school.
Parent: I understand switching schools isn’t easy. Sounds like you want to make more
friends. Can you share more with me?
6. Child: child isn’t talking at all and is shutdown
Parent: It looks like something is bothering you. I would like to hear more about it when
you’re ready to talk. I want you to know you can share anything with me no matter what it
When children don’t have the safety of a healthy parent, they can internalize not feeling worthy, develop low self-esteem, or worse self-harm. If you believe your children are struggling with their emotions and need assistance in helping them process, please reach out to learn more about coaching options that can best support a trusting relationship with your child. Every child deserves to feel heard, understood, and valued.