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When Children of Divorce Act Out – Caring Parents Step Up!

Divorce, like life, is rarely neat and packaged. This is especially true for divorcing parents. The reality of divorce comes with unexpected twists, constant frustrations and times of utter helplessness when children act up or pull away.

Here are three tips for coping with times when your children are venting, lashing out or expressing their own frustrations about being caught up in a family adjusting to separation or divorce.

Diffusing blame. Some children, especially pre-teens and teens, may blame one parent or the other for the divorce. Sometimes they may be correct in this interpretation given circumstances they have been aware of for years (alcoholism, absent parent, domestic violence, etc.). Other times they side with one parent as a result of their prior relationship …

dynamics with that parent. Regardless of why you or your spouse is being blamed, keep your cool. In many cases blaming is a defense against feeling overwhelmed by the circumstances in your child’s life. Suddenly there are so many changes in such a short period of time. Often this behavior is not meant against you personally. It is merely a child’s way of coping. When you keep this in mind it is easier to not personalize the outbursts and accusations. Patiently remind your child that you understand their frustrations. Acknowledge they have a sincere right to feel that way. Tell them how much you love them and how much you regret their hurt and pain. Let them know this was a difficult decision for both parents yet one you feel is the best alternative for your family’s future happiness and well-being. Be patient and consistent. And don’t internalize a child’s expressions of frustration as a lack of love for you as a parent.

Countering distress. Often, negative comments from your children are expressions of distress and not criticism. Children want and need encouragement, support, and security during times of stress and change. If their needs are not being met because one or both parents are too caught up in their own hurt and drama, it is not surprising to hear negative comments and outbursts. When you realize that this is a call for attention, recognition and the emotional healing that you can provide, you can move into action. This is the time to reinforce your comments about the key messages every child needs to hear. They include: You are safe. You are loved by Mom and Dad. You will not lose Mom or Dad. You are not to blame for the divorce. Although change can be challenging, everything will work out okay.

Patient acceptance. In many ways divorce is like death. Sometimes the best thing you can do is fully be there for your children and understand what they are going through from their perspective. Talk if they want to talk. Hug and cuddle if they respond to affection. Continue as many family routine activities as possible on a day-to-day basis. Be honest and sincere when you are upset or frustrated by changes in your family life – and let them express their frustrations, as well. Most importantly, accept and acknowledge whatever they share with you as okay for them to feel. Try to put yourself into the mind-set of your six, ten or fifteen year old and experience the world from their viewpoint. It will help you be more empathic, less judgmental and more open to really “hearing” what they have to say.

This is what creating a “child-centered” divorce is all about. Let your children’s emotional and physical needs be at the forefront of your mind when making life-altering decisions related to separation or divorce. Parents who consciously create a “child-centered” divorce have their radar constantly on. They’re attuned to subtle changes in their children’s behavior before that evolves into overwhelming challenges. Their children know and feel that they count and are a vital part of the family dynamic – even if it is evolving into a different form. These children are less fearful and more likely to move on with their lives into the future with confidence and high self-esteem. Isn’t that what you want for your children?

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Rosalind Sedacca, CCT, is the author of the new ebook, How Do I Tell the Kids … about the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook™ Guide to Preparing Your Children — with Love! The ebook provides expert advice which helps parents create a unique personal family storybook that guides them through this difficult transition with optimum results. To learn more, visit: For free articles on child-centered divorce and her free ezine, go to:

© Rosalind Sedacca 2007 All rights reserved.


  1. Sandra McGuinnes Sandra McGuinnes
    July 27, 2007    

    All of it is well said and I would love to do anythink but follow your advice. However I’m going through a divorce at present and our only child, 9-year old boy, has mild Autism. Would you have any advice specifically for my situation, what do I tell him? The advice I was given so far by school was NOT to tell him anything despite the fact that me and mu husband still live under the same roof so you can just imagine.
    I would very much appreciate any suggestions.

  2. Diane Miller Diane Miller
    December 11, 2007    

    I am into a divorce that is about 7 years old and I am having problems with my x-husband and his responsibilities toward me and my children. He acts like he wants the covient responsibilities only. We cant talk or even be in the same room as each other and I truly think the boys are confused, and starting to be angry with me.
    I would love your suggestions
    Thank you

  3. taylor evered taylor evered
    May 19, 2008    

    ithink that most kids with divorced parents are more violent

  4. May 19, 2008    

    I’ve never heard that before. Is your opinion based on your personal experience with children of divorce? My own son, who was eleven when I divorced, is a very caring, sensitive young man who grew up to be a veterinarian. He was never violent. (He’s getting married next week and his Dad and I will both be there with our extended families to celebrate.)

    I believe violence or other forms of acting out come from living through difficult divorce situations. I blame parents for emotionally scaring their children through their own insensitivity. I don’t think it’s divorce itself that creates violent, inconsiderate or depressed children. It’s divorce done wrong. When parents maintain a warm parental relationship with their children, and don’t alienate the kids against their other parent, the outcome for everyone can be positive and successful. That’s what my website and Child-Centered Divorce Network are all about!

    Thanks for your comment.

    Rosalind Sedacca

  5. May 19, 2008    

    For Diane:

    I am so sorry to hear about your difficulties in communicating with your ex. It is essential that you open that door with him before things get even worse.

    I know it’s not easy to do. Perhaps if you write a sincere letter focusing on the well-being of your children he might be open to talking with you. You need to find out what is bothering him so you can start a dialog to clear the air.

    Remind him that good co-parenting and honest communication is for the sake of your children so they don’t pay the price in tension, resentment, confusion, lowered self-esteem, depression and more. See if there is any subject about which you two do agree — and move ahead slowly from there — always focused on the children’s needs.

    Consulting a counselor, coach or other professional might be advantageous for you at this time, as well. There may be some skills you can learn to ease the tension and open your communication with the father of your children.

    I wish you increasing success and happy endings.

    Rosalind Sedacca, CCT

  6. Loren Cheatham Loren Cheatham
    July 7, 2008    

    Your Advice has helped me keep my mind straight. I am still married but considering divorce because my wife is having an affair. My son is 6 years old and it pains me to think of him going to sleep at night without me there. I have the better chance for custody, but lack the funds to fight for it, and my wife’s mother has plenty of money to fight. My Mother in law is also aware of the affair and is helping my wife hide it…I’m smarter than they think though. It’s a long story, but i’m willing to stay in the marriage and let her do what she wants just so my son does not have to go through it. Is this good or not for him? My wife and I do not have arguments nor even discuss the affair any more, so my son is not in a situation where there is a lot of argueing. the tension is well controlled.

  7. July 7, 2008    

    Hi Loren:

    Obviously no one can give you specific advice from a distance. It is good that you are thinking this through carefully before making any decisions, which is wise. It would be best for you to find a therapist/counselor/support group to talk to about your situation to get the broadest possible perspective.

    Staying together for the sake of your son is noble but it is unlikely to work without you and your wife doing considerable inner work. That includes talking about the affair and deciding whether she is willing to end it. Then there will be work on forgiveness issues and building a new, secure and loving foundation for your marriage.

    If you are both in agreement about this direction then the future of the marriage can be positive and supportive for everyone in the family. If your wife is ready to move on, staying in the marriage will be very difficult. Somewhere along the line you will decide you need to start a new life for yourself as well. At that time you need to create a Child-Centered Divorce, putting your foremost attention on the best interest of your son.

    I suggest you get the assistance you need in making the best decision for you and your son (and hopefully for your wife too) and move ahead with that wisdom in mind. Always remember that your wife is the mother of your son and must be treated with respect and dignity for that reason throughout the challenges ahead. When you hurt your son’s mother, you hurt him — and I know you never want to do that.

    Thank you for writing. I wish you the best possible outcome.

    Rosalind Sedacca, CCT

  8. suzanne serkez suzanne serkez
    December 15, 2008    

    I would love to follow the ideas of child-centered divorce, especially for the sake of my 5 children. The problem is my ex is very angry and verbally abusive. He will not accept my phone calls and refuses to communicate with me. I am frustrated because the kids often get caught up in the middle since he refuses to interact with me on any level. Do you have any advice as to how I can enourage communication?

  9. December 16, 2008    

    No doubt, this is a difficult challenge for any parent. Please don’t give up. Keep trying to contact your ex requesting communication regarding the well-being of the children. Leave phone messages, send emails, write a letter. Be calm and explain that the children will be happier if he and you could discuss some issues in advance.

    Use “I” messages about your goals. Don’t refer to his anger or failure to respond. Don’t judge or put him on the defensive. Just talk about the benefits for the children. Bring up one specific issue you’d like to discuss or focus on regarding the children. Mention how they are being negatively affected by their parents not talking. Tell him regardless of how he feels about you, this is just on behalf of the kids.

    Be persistent if he doesn’t respond. In time hopefully he will get the message. Don’t use your children as messengers or ask them for details about Dad’s life. This pressures and confuses children unnecessarily. Contact a coach or therapist for more specific help. Often an impartial professional can suggest a new approach that will be more successful.

    Wishing you much success with this. Do let me know if you get results.


  10. Brooke Ebbing Brooke Ebbing
    May 7, 2009    

    I am really struggling with the idea of divorce. I know that I am no longer emotionally committed to doing the work it takes to make a marriage work. My heart has long since moved on. However I have two boys that already struggle with ADHD and some other behavior issues and I really worry about how they could transition into a new life. One concern is that my older son is not my husbands bio-child (but he has raised him since infancy.) I worry that my husband will let his relationship with my son slip away because he has not adopted him. The other concern I have is the way that my husband treats my children when I am not around. He is very short and impatient with them. He has a tendency to ignore their needs and become angry if they “bother” him. I feel like any small amount of influence I have on his behavior towards them would be gone if I decided to go through with a divorce.

  11. May 7, 2009    

    Thanks for your comments. My heart goes out to you at this difficult time. It sounds like you and your husband need to talk seriously in advance of the divorce about your responsibilities toward your children regardless of what you decide. You might want to speak to a counselor about these issues first so you have the right perspective in moving ahead. You are right to be concerned about your children. Your husband needs to be aware of his relationship issues with them divorce or not.

    Please seek out professional assistance. You will not regret it.
    I wish you the best possible outcome for everyone in your family.
    Also, subscribe to my free ezine for weekly tips of value in raising children during and after divorce.

    Rosalind Sedacca

  12. Lisa Snell Lisa Snell
    March 21, 2010    

    My ex husbad has my daughter. I try to see her every chance I get. She lives 86 miles from me. She won’t do her homework and gets 0’s. Her dad grounds her from me I get to see her maybe 2 times every 3 months. Her step mom called me said I needed to get on to her. But I feel it’s not my place. My daughter looks up to me. I want to be there more for her. I do call her every other day. Her schooling I know nothing about, unless it’s bad. What should I do?

  13. March 23, 2010    

    This is not an easy subject to provide advice about without more information. I’ll give it a try. Your daughter obviously is having issues living at home with Dad and is taking it out on her schoolwork. She desperately needs to talk to a professional who can sort out her problems and lend an ear. She needs you, as well.

    It’s important for you to discuss her school challenges and encourage her to get help and support. Her education is a crucial matter in her life which can’t be ignored. You also need to discuss this first with your former spouse to better understand the dynamic at home.

    Please don’t ignore the importance of looking into this and opening the doors of communication with your child and former spouse. You can’t ignore this issue.

    Good luck — and don’t be afraid to consult a therapist about this.

  14. Jonathan Lang Jonathan Lang
    March 9, 2011    

    Breaking up is never easy, especially with children involved. Many tmes the parents can help to ease the suffering of the children by properly preparing them and communicating to them a change is coming before the actual separation happens.

    Good post!

  15. December 1, 2015    

    My granddoll and this little girl Tiana inspired me to write this children’s picture story book. “Divorce Through the Eyes of a Child;Dear Mama and Dad”

  16. December 2, 2015    

    Glad you were inspired to write the children’s book. We value resources that help families cope with divorce.

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