Blending Your StepFamily 41: Parenting 6-8 year-olds During A Divorce or Separation

Six to eight-year-olds are in the stage of self-discovery.   Despite all of their own accomplishments and feats, kids this age base much of their own self-image on how they and others perceive their parents.  A child of this age desperately needs to see the good in his parents in order to define himself as good.  Just as he draws power from knowing his parents are well thought of, so too, he can be very hurt by any hint that they are not.

Children of this age perceive criticism of a parent, either by their other parent or other person’s, as a criticism of himself.

This close association and dependence on her parents may also explain why kids this age rarely admit feeling angry with a parent and instead will exhibit displaced anger maybe toward a sibling, a friend or perhaps a stepparent.

Six to eight-year-olds have the ability to talk about their feelings and thoughts so you can learn much from what your child says to you or others.  Unfortunately, kids of this age can also become quite good at keeping their feelings to themselves.  The child might remember that the last time she confessed she was sad over the divorce, mommy got sad too, so she reasons, it’s better to just not bring it up.  Or the child may talk about how she feels indirectly by talking about another child who may be going through a divorce.  She may say her friend is really sad but what she is actually doing is attributing her thoughts and feelings to her friend.

Suzie was so disappointed that Daddy wouldn’t be at her dance recital that she announced to Mommy that she would not be going herself.  Mommy was in tune to her child and asked why.  Suzie came up with a reason that Mommy didn’t buy.  She realized Suzie was upset that both of her parents would not be there and since kids this age do not want to be different from other kids, she decided it best not to go since the other kids parents would be there.  Mommy told her that both of Deanne and Liz’s parents would not be there either.  And it’s okay for a parent to be absent when they absolutely can’t help it.  She explained that Daddy would have been there, like he always is, but before he even knew about the dance recital, he agreed to a business trip.  He couldn’t back out now.  But she will be there to take pictures and Suzie can share all the pictures with Daddy when he gets home.

She reminded Suzie that it is both of them that pay for her dance lessons and they both love to see her perform.  Suzie ended up going and she delighted in showing her dad the photos when he got home.

This mom was wise in how she handled her daughter’s announcement.  How wonderful for Suzie to have a mom who supported her and didn’t criticize her dad for not being at the recital or saying he should have known about it but apparently it wasn’t important enough.  She protected her daughter and helped her to see her dad as good and came up with a solution so her daughter could share the moment with her dad.  Parent’s who criticize the other parent or even infer that they should be different than they are could be hurting their own child without even realizing it.

Kids this age want to love both parents and see the good in each parent.

I remember as a child of seven overhearing a family friend say something that I interpreted as bad about my mom.  My heart was absolutely broken.  I never said a word but never forgot what was said and this was just a friend of the family saying it, not my dad.  So you can imagine how damaging it is for the child to hear his or her own parent talk unflattering about the other parent.  Vent elsewhere, protect your child against further hurt.

Kids this age may believe the divorce is their fault.  As contradictory as it may seem, children are sometimes more comfortable blaming themselves for the divorce because they want to believe their parents can do no wrong.  And in the child’s mind, if he caused it, maybe he can fix it.  That’s another reason to affirm to your child that it’s not his fault and he can’t fix it.

If you are seeing your little one struggle since your divorce, please seek help.  I have helped several kids through difficult times with love and compassion and tools to help them to accept the changes in their family.

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