Children ages 9 -12 often referred to as Tweens, are able to speak about their feelings and they understand the reality of their family situations. When their parents separate or divorce, they can control their feelings of sadness, anger and anxiety. They may handle their feelings resourcefully and disguise them from everyone. Many become active in play as a way to cope. Some may also help out with new responsibilities or otherwise “manage” things in their family.
On the other hand, 9 to 12-year-olds may become openly angry. They may experience a conflict of loyalty between each parent and, if the conflict between parents is high, they may try to cope by rejecting one parent or trying to keep both happy by saying negative things about one to the other. Tweens are already dealing with their own grief so please keep your kids from feeling like they need to take sides. Kids should not be put in a position to worry about their parent’s feeling’s, the parents should help the child cope with their emotions.
Tweens may view their parents with outrage or moral indignation concerning the end of the marriage and the family as they have known it. They usually do not believe they are the cause of the divorce like younger children, but blame their parents. Anger, if it’s not disguised, is shown in several ways. For instance, some children may have temper outbursts or they may become bossy and demanding. Your tween may not know why they feel so angry; it may be rooted in feelings of being cheated “why couldn’t my parents stay together like Susie’s”. Some may protest when their parents begin dating new people.
Nine to twelve-year-olds have various fears, a common one being a fear of being forgotten by their parents. During the divorce, some may begin to perform less well in school, and their relationships with friends may become disrupted or strained. Some may even complain of physical stress-related symptoms, such as headaches and stomachaches.
This group begins to understand the concept of morals. When they are told to do “moral” things, but see their parents break the rules it creates a conflict within them; thus, morality can become confusing if it’s not modeled. It is very important for parents to model what they expect from their kids. If lying is unacceptable for the child, then it should be unacceptable behavior by the parent as well. If you don’t want your kid to cuss, then don’t model it. Be the example you would like your child to follow.
They are also beginning to experience the world outside their family. They may enjoy sports, art, dancing, singing or other interests and social commitments become more important. When you make visitation schedules you should take account of your children’s interests and activities. This allows them the opportunity to join in social and sporting activities, which are an important part of their development. Where possible, it would be beneficial for children to continue their activities regardless of who is caring for them.
How can you help your tween to cope and continue to develop healthily through the divorce?
- Providing consistency is a must. Their world is already rocked so it’s important they know what to expect and what is expected from them. They will begin to have widening boundaries along with bigger consequences for poor decision-making. Let them know that they will receive more privileges as long as you can trust them with their choices.
- As a way to express pent up emotions, offer physical and creative activities to keep them active and interested. Getting them involved in 4-H or Scouts is a healthy outlet. Sports are a great way to relieve tension. Chores around the house can give them a way to work off some aggression while causing them to feel important in the family and make some extra money. Since they may be angry, stress your rules for not harming others physically but encourage them to talk with you about their feelings. Positive feedback is a very important reward at this age. It can come in the form of hugs, verbal affirmation, quality time together and pats on the back.
- One year after divorce, about half of the 9 to 12-year-old children are still showing some distress related to the divorce. The resolution of their feelings about divorce seems to take a while. Having a significant adult as a mentor will make them feel special and secure during this time and is invaluable to helping them cope and grow developmentally.
Isaiah 66:13 says “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted.” The Lord will comfort you parents as you comfort your child. Let them grieve the loss of their family but in a healthy way.