(Cleveland Clinic News Service)– More than one million children in the U.S. are affected by divorce or separation each year. A recent report issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) addresses the ways in which a child’s pediatrician can help them through difficult transitions.
Talking through it
According to Skyler Kalady, M.D., a pediatrician at Cleveland Clinic Children’s, divorce and separation can impact children of all ages. “When parents are going through difficult times, children perceive that, regardless of their age,” said Dr. Kalady. “So while kids may express their stresses in different ways at different ages, it’s important for parents to be as open and honest as possible, even with difficult situations.”
Dr. Kalady said keeping an open line of communication with children is essential, but that it’s important to keep the conversation age-appropriate. School aged children might ask questions about when the other parent is coming back, which Dr. Kalady said is appropriate for their age. She stressed that families should not be afraid to talk about divorce openly with their child’s pediatrician. Likewise, pediatricians should always ask kids questions about any changes that they might be going through to help them navigate difficult times.
Dr. Kalady said it’s important to remember that consistency and routines are very comforting to children. “As simple as the same school, the same after-care program, the same activities; of course, if they’re changing households that’s not always possible, but to the extent that they can keep some things consistent, that usually helps children feel safe and know what to expect,” said Dr. Kalady.
Pay attention to behavior
When children deal with stresses, Dr. Kalady said they often internalize their concerns and can display them in many different ways. Divorce doesn’t impact every child the same and just because a child did not have any issues at the time of the separation, it doesn’t mean that it won’t impact them later down the road.
Recognizing when a child is acting out is easy, but Dr. Kalady said sometimes there are less obvious ways that a child displays emotions. “A lot of times it can be a lot more subtle,” said Dr. Kalady. “So things like not doing as well in school, or withdrawing from their activities or their friends, or just being disinterested. Those are the more subtle things that can indicate maybe a little bit of depressed mood, anxiety or other concerns and that’s what we really want to help as pediatricians to identify early.”