Have you noticed more pronounced behaviours in your eldest, middle, youngest or only child since your separation and divorce?

In my role as a child counsellor I have often observed how certain children and the roles they play within the family can become severely adjusted and more extreme when their parent separate.

The Eldest child

May exhibit a tendency to become overly mature. They may start acting in a pseudo adult fashion i.e. demanding more independence; starting to ‘take care’ of their parents; becoming increasingly involved with their siblings’ welfare or become too involved in the ‘family situation’ in an effort to ‘control’ things. As adults, when we are anxious we become more controlling – this is the same for children. If they are showing signs of behaving in this way it is because they feel the need to try and ‘contain’ their environment and the people within it. They may take it upon themselves on to act as go-between or messengers between parents. They may start getting involved with adult matters such as negotiating ‘hand-over’ arrangements/picks up, financial matters and other adult or child-inappropriate issues. They may not want to leave you in order to  see the other parent. This often indicates they are overly worried about you and seeming to be ‘keeping an eye’ on you. Some older children may find excuses to be with you away from their other sibling/s.

The Middle Child

Can feel more ‘squashed’ or ‘invisible’ stuck somewhere between the eldest and the youngest. They may become very vocal, as if to remind you they are there. This indicates their need to be seen and heard, wanting more of your time and demonstrating the desire to be more prominent on your ‘parental radar’.

They may either become the subtle ‘diplomat’ between parents or be answering a lot of ‘I don’t knows’ when questioned. There may be a ‘volcanic eruption’. This applies to all of your children who are terribly ‘sunburnt’ and need to voice their discomfort.

The middle child often seems to be observing the eldest and youngest and may alienate themselves from other family members.

The Youngest Child

May appear to be regressing. It’s as if they have gone back in maturational steps. There might be more bed-wetting; going back to nappies; speaking in baby voices. This behaviour could be displayed by them wanting to play with old toys or toys for younger children. They may show signs of wanting to be babies again by reverting to old rituals you used when they were much younger such as ‘tucking them into bed’ or reading more bedtime stories. They may find it hard to settle at night, acting out and having more ‘tantrum’ like eruptions.

Only Child

Are more likely to act as the diplomat – feeling the weight of all of the responsibility so they won’t want to upset either of you. They don’t have anyone to share their feelings and thoughts with so they can feel very isolated and go into their own world. They may do all that has been mentioned previously. They may be demonstrating all the behaviours of the eldest, the middle and the youngest due to the pressures. All the above behavioural patterns cannot necessarily be ascribed to the eldest, middle and youngest children. You may even find that all three ‘sibling’ positions can be interchanged and the ascribed behavioural traits vary. As siblings, they can ‘bounce’ various feelings and roles amongst themselves.

The dynamics of your children and their roles:

The eldest may resent the youngest for being a baby or being babied and believe that they are the ones having to shoulder all the responsibility for their other siblings. They may feel they are the ones who get ‘told off’ or get the ‘blame’ for the others.  The eldest is generally the first child to pick up on the situation between parents and the emotional ‘vibe’.  They can act as ‘buffers’ for the younger ones and can seem the most affected by divorce as they usually bear the most impact – hence possibly needing to try to ‘control’ the situation more.

The middle child will feel the eldest has far too much control and bosses them around (again can apply to youngest one too).

The youngest one will possibly feel overwhelmed and picked on by the elder ones.
As a result of all these dynamics there can be ‘ganging up’ of siblings against one another (feeling there is ‘safety’ in numbers) and a lot more physical fights may ensue.

Your children will need to let off steam more or find ways to let go of their mixed confused emotions and therefore will display more ‘physical’ behaviour in an effort to deal with the situation.