How Can Single Moms Handle a Child’s Irregular Behavior Following Divorce?
By Melissa Chapman
As soon as the ink on your divorce papers dried while your son seemed to take it all in stride and hasn’t missed a beat, your daughter has not fared as well. All of a sudden your chatty little girl has turned from a bright shining star pupil to a C-student who is sullen, moody and unwilling to communicate with you.
According to Virginia Bentz, a single mom and the author of a Quick Guide to Good Kids‘, when a child is attentive to her schoolwork, maintains close friendships with nice kids, and is eating and sleeping normally, those are all signs that she is coping well with the situation.
“These are all the key elements that single parents should be watching for, and if these elements of your child’s life are going well, then your child is probably doing fine,” says Bentz. “However, I would still keep track of this child on a daily basis, touching base at dinnertime and bedtime especially, to get his casual comments about what happened during the day, what his concerns are, and whether there’s anything you can do to help him out. Even if it’s as simple as buying him that 89 cent poster board from Wal-Mart that he’ll need for his science project!”
But there is cause for concern regarding a child whose grades have fallen, who is sullen and uncommunicative with their parent. Bentz offers these strategies to help a single mom get her child, who exhibits these behaviors post divorce, back on a more positive path.
“A child is a fairly emotional being and therefore it would be hard for her to be totally uncommunicative,” says Bentz. “Quite possibly she’s confiding in someone elseand that person may be able to help her get turned around.”
- Privately (without your child’s knowledge) try to get some information about her behavior from her teachers, youth group leaders, a favorite guidance counselor, even aunts or grandmothers in whom she has confided in the past, just to see if they could give you a detail or two to shed light on what’s bothering her. Let these”extended family” people know you’re concerned about her and that whatever they could do to help her you’d appreciate it.
- Make every effort to reduce the stress level at home.Give up keeping up with the Joneses; let the house go as long as everyone’s got something to eat and clean clothes to wear.
- Avoid criticizing your child even though she was is not performing so well. Tell her frequently that you love her; try to be tender and compliment her whenever you can to raise her comfort level with you.
- “Go out of your way to do comforting things for her, like making that batch of chocolate chip cookies and taking a plate to her room while they’re still warm, with a glass of milk. That’s hard to resist,” says Bentz. “Be prepared to spend as much time with your daughter as possible. Attend a movie together, or go for a Chinese dinner; something special just the two of you can share.”
- Try to make yourself available especially at dinner time and at bedtime. These are the two times of the day when all kids; even teenagers feel the most tired and vulnerable and confide their feelings.
- “Give out that good night kiss every evening, andbe relaxed and loving,” says Betz. “I know, I know! This is so exhausting! When it’s 11:00 p.m., and you’re a tired single parent, you just want to go to sleep! You want to say, please, leave me alone; I’ve had enough grief today! Don’t give me another problem! But, it’s important that when you finally get that little confiding softness coming through the sullen armor that you’re sitting down on her bed and giving her your full attention. This is the scenario where everything comes pouring out. Kids want to be able to confide to a willing, sympathetic ear and you have to take those confidences whenever they come no matter how tired you are.”
- Protect this re-opened communication with all your might.
- “Avoid the hysterics once her secret thoughts are revealed and focus on working on what you can do together to improve the situation for her,” says Bentz. “Maybe she needs to see a counselor to work through her feelings about the divorce. Maybe she needs a day off from school to catch up on her homework. Or maybe she has a friend who is nothing but trouble and it will take some time and patience for her to extricate herself. Be very patient. Whatever the case, know that it will get better little by little now that she’s communicating with you again.”
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