Families Change
Parent Guide to Separation & Divorce

You are here

What if my child is acting differently or acting out?

Previous Next

Feelings are not wrong, but the way you or your children act on them can lead to good or bad results. Your kids might start acting much younger than they are, or they might act out during a divorce.

 Here are some things your kids might do:


Children Teens
  • Can’t think about anything but the divorce.
  • Can’t sleep.
  • Have nightmares.
  • Get really mad at people for little things.
  • Wet the bed.
  • Skip school.
  • Party.
  • Drink.
  • Do drugs.
  • Break the law.


Tell your teens that acting out in these ways may take their mind off their feelings for a little while, but feelings always come back. Breaking rules or doing risky things just adds to the problems they are already dealing with.

You and your children can deal with feelings in lots of different and healthy ways:

  • Talk about feelings as often as you want with parents, friends, brothers and sisters, or other relatives.
  • Talk to someone outside the family, like a school counselor.
  • Write about feelings and experiences in a journal or diary.
  • Exercise or try other relaxing hobbies.
  • Crying can be a good release for feelings. There is nothing wrong with crying. There is nothing wrong with not crying, either.

Avoid using food and treats to make your children’s feelings go away. This is only a quick fix, and it can set your kids up for unhealthy habits. If you’re not feeling sure of your relationship with your child, talk to them! Don’t try to buy their love or happiness. That doesn’t work.

Don’t be afraid to ask for professional help, especially if you or one of your children are

  • depressed,
  • feeling out of control,
  • feeling extremely anxious
  • having strong emotions that last for a long time and get in the way of normal activities,
  • having difficulty managing anger, or
  • feeling suicidal or might be at risk for self-harm.

If you think your children might hurt themselves or others, get help for them immediately.

How to help your children cope

Your kids need to know about the different strategies they can use to help them get through the separation or divorce. The Strategies section of the Teen Guide and Tools in the Kids' Guide can help with this. These guides will teach them

  • what to do if they feel caught in the middle,
  • how and when to speak up,
  • how to cope with the separation or divorce, and
  • what to do if there is abuse in the home.