Children Need a Sense of Control in Their Lives, Too

When parents divorce or separate, children can feel helpless and out of control in the situation. This can leave them looking for ways to find what they can control in their lives. Unfortunately, this can lead to addictive or unhealthy eating habits.

By Brian James, C.E.L. and Associates
Updated: October 07, 2014

When a family goes through transitions it takes a while for everyone to adjust and find their grounding again. When parents divorce or separate, it dramatically changes the dynamics of the family situation. Children feel an enormous amount of stress when the life they know comes crumbling apart. Children feel helpless and out of control in the situation. It can cause a lot of anxiety and stress in children. While the adults have control over their job, choice of new residence, and new schedule, the children are left to cope with a new situation. This can leave children looking for ways to find what they can control in their lives. Unfortunately, this can lead to addictive or unhealthy eating habits.

Children have the power to decide what they will eat, how much, and when they want to eat. For example a child that once may have eaten a well balanced diet may suddenly demand that they will only eat bologna sandwiches. One way to ensure your child is getting proper nutrition during this time it to give them a daily vitamin. There are also vitamin and protein shakes for children designed to supplement a picky eater's diet.

Sometimes this need for control can spiral into an addiction. Pay attention if you see your child suddenly binging on extreme amounts of food. Alternatively, if your child develops a pattern of refusing food, that could lead to potential anorexia if unaddressed. While parents may feel compelled to directly tackle the food issue, what really needs to be addressed is the emotional symptoms which are the underlying cause of the behavior.

For a child seeking to feel more control it feel empowering to have this new sense of control over their diet and their bodies. This unhealthy association can lead to a serious eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia. That's why it's so critical for parents to spot these behavior changes before they become engrained behaviors for coping.

One way parents can help their children cope in light of the divorce is to find ways the children can make decisions. For instance asking a child how they want to set up their bedroom in the new residence can help them feel more power. On the other hand, parents do have to guard that they aren't letting the kids make bad choices out of guilt or an attempt to make the kids feel better. A mediator can help parents brainstorm ways to empower kids in their new situation. Should you need professional help, the mediator can point you to specialists that deal with eating disorders. Additionally, the mediator helps couples to communicate and keep the children's best interest in focus through all stages of the divorce. When parents act together as a team, they have the best chances of protecting the children from emotional damage and helping them through this transition.


Brian James is an experienced divorce and family mediator with offices throughout Chicagoland and Southeastern Wisconsin. He runs a mediation practice, C.E.L. and Associates. He can be reached at (312) 524-5829. View his Divorce Magazine profile.

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August 28, 2012
Categories:  Children and Divorce

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