Families Change Guide to Separation & Divorce

3.8 - Children’s Reactions to Tension Around Finances

3.8 - Children’s Reactions to Tension Around Finances

Children from Birth to 18 months are able to detect tension between their parents, but they cannot understand the reasoning behind the conflict. If tension continues, the child may appear to be nervous, especially around new people.

Here are some remedies:

  • Don’t fight in front of the child.
  • Reduce the child’s startle reflex caused by exposure to loud voices and expressions of anger.

Children from 18 months to 5 years realize that they are separate entities from their parents. Often separation involves changes in residence, preschool or childcare providers.  There may be changes in routines because of available finances. Children this age often benefit from predictability and a stable environment.

Changes in the environment can be very difficult for children at this age. They may react by insisting their immediate needs be met, even if there is tension at home. They may compete for a parent’s attention at a time when the parent may no longer have the same amount of time to give the child because of new responsibilities, emotions, or stress.

At this age a child’s world is centered on itself, but he or she is aware of tension in the environment. A child will react to emotions, and perceived threats to his or her security.

Here are some remedies:

  • Develop and keep to a routine.
  • Reduce the number of changes in the children’s world.
  • Don’t fight in front of the child.
  • Look to friends and family to spend some time with the child.
  • Read books to your child to illustrate what is happening.
  • Encourage your child to talk.

Children from 6 – 11 years are developing strong friendships. They understand loss when separation occurs. They are also able to recognize the changes resulting from your separation.

Even relatively small financial worries can build up to a breaking point in a child’s mind, producing erratic outbursts, tears and periods of tiredness.

When children witness their parent’s fear, anger or distress over lack of money, they may react with physical and/or emotional regression. They may hear the word “no” more often to do with money matters – toys, treats, special events – and react with attention-getting behavior and self-centered behavior.

They may react to competition between their parents over money by playing one parent against the other for bigger “rewards.” They may experience feelings of abandonment after overhearing negative comments about the other parent’s lack of financial support.

Here are some remedies:

  • Remove conflict from the children’s presence. Avoid fighting in front of the children.
  • Don’t show your anger at your children’s other parent, or his or her spending habits.
  • Don’t make negative comments about your child’s other parent and money matters, either in person or over the phone, when the child is present.
  • Explain changes in routine simply and without drama, without laying blame.
  • Allow the children time to adjust to new things.
  • Develop a financial plan to deal with the children’s needs.
  • Establish a formal financial agreement with the other parent to address the children’s expenses.
  • Communicate with your children’s other parent about ongoing and unexpected expenses.
  • Encourage your children to talk to you about their fears or worries.

Adolescents 11 – 18 years are very aware of what is going on in their parents’ lives, including separation. Not only are they aware of what surrounds them, they are also very critical about the situation. Adolescents are more conscious about being different from their peers, and how these differences are accentuated.

Adolescents are embarrassed by their parents’ separation and are resentful of how it affects their lives. Changes in finances hit teenagers very hard. Adolescents are easily caught in the middle. Adolescents can develop serious psychological problems as a result of a poisonous, emotional atmosphere.

Here are some remedies:

  • Talk to your adolescent about changes in your financial situation.
  • Help your teen understand planning, so they can maximize their funds to select items that their budget allows.
  • Don’t use adolescents as messengers about money.
  • Share your adolescent’s financial concerns with the other parent and brainstorm solutions.

Encourage adolescents to participate in money management – earning money, saving money, comparing earnings and expenses.