Some children will simply have a more intense reaction to their parents divorce than others. Neuroscientists have found that certain children are markedly more affected by experiencing new things, things as basic as being in a new place and as complex as loss or trauma. However, these same children also have the greatest potential to grow into talented, loving, self-possessed, and creative people.
Sparing the scientific jargon, the basic idea is this—the amygdala (an almost prehistoric part of the brain that deals with the most basic of emotions, like fear or anxiety) can be significantly more sensitive in some children than in others. These high-reactive children are also much more likely to turn out to be introverts, most likely because their experience of the world—frequently more intense, more feel-y—is best managed in small amounts, and the comfort of known places and people provides solace.
These children have incredible potential. In Susan Cain’s new book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts, she writes of the type of child who is precocious in their awareness of their surroundings, empathetic and conscientious of others, and able to develop deeply significant relationships. On the other hand, they also face the greatest risk for anxiety and depression. They are two sides of the same physiological coin—these kids feel more, and can’t turn it off.
Parents have a special responsibility to these high-reactive children during a divorce. These children observe a lot, and absorb more than the average kid. As Jan Belksy writes, “If the parents squabble a lot, and put their kid in the middle, then watch out—this is the kid who will succumb.” He goes on to say that these more sensitive children are definitely able to withstand adversity, but there are key things that parents can do:
- Maintain a high level of emotional support for these children: If you, as the parent, are depleted emotionally yourself by the divorce, find trustworthy extended family members or paid child psychologists to provide extra support for them
- Show your love and care for them: Communicate consistently that even though your marriage may be over, your love for them continues, and so does the family
- Remove these children from conflict: Have difficult conversations with your spouse when these kids are not there
- Provide as much stability as reasonably possible: Work to minimize the number of changes they experience around things such as school and friends
Divorcing parents who manage to cooperate, even during the emotional turmoil of divorce, and who provide their high-reactive child with the psychological support and love the child needs, will find that their child can successfully navigate difficult times, including a divorce.