There are many possible reasons children misbehave. This entry will look at one in particular.
Plain and simple, they may be angry at life because their family divorced. They may not even be aware of it. Most kids have not developed emotionally enough to know what they’re feeling inside. Maybe they know what they’re feeling, but don’t know why.
Symptoms include behavior problems, anger issues, excessive fighting, lower grades, and difficulty forming healthy relationships. By the latter, I mean friends at school. Excessive shyness or being introverted, especially if not characteristic of the child, would also make it difficult to make new friends.
These are signs of incomplete grief. Grieving doesn’t just occur when a parent dies. All divorcees, even children whose family gets a divorce, mourn the loss of their family. Everything changes. Nothing is the way they knew it to be – the way they were comfortable with it.
I was an angry child after my parents divorce.
I experienced this first-hand after my parents divorced. In the years following, I was a very angry child. Ironically, I didn’t know I was. I had no idea why I had an urge to fight with my sisters all the time. I just did. By fight, I don’t just mean argue. We were rolling around the floor, pulling hair, kicking, and what-have-you. My mom bought me books I never read and made me see the child counselor at school, which didn’t help. Sure, eventually I got over it. But what remained was my resentment that she didn’t understand me. I resented being singled out as the one with the problems. As I matured, I stopped picking fights and arguing. It wasn’t until my formal education that I finally understood what was really going on with me. Only then did I work through my personal issues.
Now, I realize I was angry about the loss of life as I knew it. I was angry that I had to change schools. I didn’t make new friends right away. I just didn’t feel like getting to know anybody new. I missed my friends.
More than anything, though, I wish my mom (and dad for that matter) understood the stages of grieving. I wish they knew how to support me through what I was going through instead of making me feel like there was something wrong with me.
I tell you this story because you can probably relate in some way. Whether you went through a divorce as a child or are a parent watching your children experience divorce.
There are different ways of modifying children’s behavior. Many can be effective. By no means am I suggesting you allow your kids or stepkids to misbehave without correction. If they are acting the wrong way, they need to be held accountable in some way. They need to learn the right way to act, but they also need to understand their emotions. You, as a parent or step parent, can help them manage their emotions.
Understanding the process of grieving is a big first step. Read up on it. At its core essence, coping with death is the same as coping with a new life after divorce. Remember that when choosing information to read. My favorite author on grieving is Elizabether Kubler-Ross. My favorite author on dealing with loss in a stepfamily is Gloria Lintermans.
The Secrets to Stepfamily Success, by Gloria Lintermans, discusses the full process of grief in both adults and children. She explains the need to grieve both tangible and intangible losses, gives examples, and lists signs of incomplete grief. I highly recommend reading her book, especially if you are a separated or divorced parent and are considering forming a relationship with a new partner.
So if your stepkids seem to be particularly angry, it’s very possible that you (together with your partner of course) can help them and manage their misbehavior just by helping them transition through the stages of grieving. That will allow them to accept their new circumstances and all the wonderful possibilities their future can hold. You may even be surprised by their new confidence, friends, and higher grades at school.
Remember, if you have to discipline your kids (or stepkids) when you suspect they’re experiencing incomplete grieving, be sure to also let them know they’re normal and it doesn’t make them bad. Let them know how you’ve had to adjust too. That could help a great deal.