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What to Do When a Parent Leaves

Upset boy with arms crossed

It's common for children to act out when their parents divorce or one parent leaves the family. Children may react by taking out their anger or fear on the remaining parent. If you are dealing with this issue, patient discussions and role-playing can help ease the tension in your home.

Dealing with an Angry Child

Like adults, children react to change with fear, anger and acceptance. First, reassure your child that it's not his fault that his parent left and that you love him no matter what he does or how he acts. However, aggressive, defiant behavior is not acceptable; teach your child the positive behaviors you expect to see and consistently use appropriate consequences when he displays the negative behaviors you want to eliminate. 

When your child loses his temper, follow these steps: 

  1. Place the child in time-out (one minute for each year of age).  
  2. Explain that hitting, biting and yelling are not acceptable. 
  3. Tell the child what pre-determined consequence he has earned for the behavior (no TV privileges, can't play with friends, etc.).

At a neutral time, role-play with your child the positive behavior you want him to display. Practice "calm down" techniques like slow breathing, journaling or physical exercise (running) with your child that he can use when he feels angry or upset.