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Parents   »   The child’s sadness, worry and depression

The child’s sadness, worry and depression

Going through their parents’ separation can be difficult for children. It can affect their wellbeing, causing them sadness, worry, and depression. It is important for parents and other important adults to take the time to spend time with the child and listen if they want to talk about how they are feeling and what they need.

A summary of this article below.

How sadness, worry and depression can manifest in children

Many children can become anxious when their parents separate. For school-aged children, the divorce may lead to feelings of guilt about things they may have done, which they link to the separation. They may think, “Would everything have been different if I had argued less?” The child may feel a general unease in their body that they can’t quite put into words. These thoughts can be scary and they may wonder if this is “normal”. Teens may also feel guilty, wondering if they are feeling the “right” or “wrong” way. They may think they should feel sadder and be scared of their lack of emotion. They may worry that their reaction was too strong and that it has had a negative impact on their parents or siblings. It is important to remind children that it is perfectly normal to feel scared and confused during a divorce, and that there is always someone to talk to about it.

Adults need to show the way forward

Even for older school children and teenagers, divorce can be the first difficult thing to happen to them. They haven’t yet developed any strategies for dealing with difficulties and have no experience of getting through a tough period and then feeling good again. An adult needs to affirm that life also includes tough periods, but that you can move forward and then look positively on life again. Maybe the child thinks that everything has changed forever and loses, for a moment, the hope. Some describe that nothing matters anymore after the divorce. It’s a normal reaction when you’re sad and downcast, but it also carries a risk if it leads to doing things that are negative, like neglecting school work or withdrawing from friends.

Identify the real concern

To understand how you can help your child, you need to identify what the worry and sorrow is about. What is your child grieving? Is there something in their everyday life that isn’t working? What is the source of their worry? Is it money, having to move, forgetting their things, parents getting new partners so they are forgotten, the future, being a “divorce child”, how the parents are feeling (is mom alone? does dad drink?), or is it unfair between parents (money, new partner, one staying)? Does the child feel invisible, as if no one has any energy for them or does the child not want to burden their already burdened parents?

Open up for conversation

Even if you have many questions that you want answers to, it’s often better to listen than to bombard the child with questions. If you open up for conversations and show that you are there, you increase the chances that the child will share their worries with you.

Support and help your child

In order to help children, you need to first understand what kind of support or help they want. Does the child want to talk or need to rest from the pain and think about something else? Maybe you do something fun together. Maybe the child can listen to music or meet friends. If you’re worried and sad, it’s hard and helpful to feel together with other people. Sometimes you have to ask straight out:

“Do you want me to help you in the mornings so you’ll get to school on time?” Actual support can help a child to relax. Predictability, routines, and increased physical proximity usually work well. A child who was “too big” for preschool or to sit next to when watching TV might need the extra security again. Older children and teenagers might need help with logistics, both practical and emotional, if they are, for example, worried about moving or how an older brother is doing. Encouragement to invite friends over or take initiative to have a dinner with friends and their parents can be helpful to break tendencies toward isolation.

Give hope on a better future

Many children are worried about their parents who are feeling bad after a separation. reassure them that you are sorry or worried, but that you can handle your feelings, get help to process them and that you will get better in the future. Children may also need to talk with someone outside of family, such as a relative, a friend of the family, the school nurse, a social worker or a support group for children who have experienced a divorce. The most important thing for a child who is worried and sad is to feel hope that things will get better longer term.


  • Many children become anxious when their parents move apart. The feelings may show themselves as guilt, thoughts, and right and wrong.
  • Adults need to show children that life can be tough, but there is a way forward.
  • Identify the feelings and find out what’s behind them. It could be anxiety about money, parents’ moods and future.
  • Give time for frequent hang-outs (short and long periods) and listen to what the child has to say.
  • Meet the child’s need for closeness, practical help for teenagers and so on according to the child’s needs.
  • Children need to feel that things will work out – give the child hope!

Malin Bergström
Child psychologist