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Child Abandoment: How to Help a Child Cope

Help Your Child Cope With a Parent's Absence

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A sad girl stands by a window.

Help your child cope with parental abandonment.

© Tom Grill/Getty Images

Growing up with an absent parent can instill a deep sense of loss and shame in kids, especially when the absence appears to be voluntary. For some kids, abandonment extends beyond a parent's failure to support the child financially, and includes the failure to communicate with the child or play an active role in the child's life. Sadly, parental abandonment, and its effects, often leave children with lingering questions about their own self worth. Fortunately, as the remaining parent, there's a lot you can do to support your child and build his or her self-esteem.

Help Your Child Cope With Abandonment

As a parent who's involved, you have a huge opportunity to influence your child's self-esteem and cope with the other parent's absence by being alert to the following effects of child abandonment:

Children who've been abandoned may reject everything about the absent parent: In some cases, children who have been abandoned by one parent will make an effort to completely reject him or her. You'll see this when a child expresses the desire to be the exact opposite of the absent parent.

What You Can Do:

  • Affirm your child's own unique qualities.

  • Allow your child to share his or her thoughts and opinions.

  • Instead of arguing over your child's rejection of the absent parent, simply respond with a benign statement, such as "I can understand why you might feel that way right now."
Children with abandonment issues may idealize the absent parent: Some children may over-identify with the absent parent and develop a set of fantasies about him or her which - although they may provide temporary comfort - are not be based in reality.

What You Can Do:
  • Allow your child to freely verbalize his or her memories of the absent parent.

  • Avoid the temptation to correct your child's recollections.

  • Ask open-ended questions to help your child articulate additional details related to his or her memories.
Children with abandonment issues may develop poor self-esteem: Children who have experienced parental abandonment may also be prone to developing poor self-esteem and a sense of shame surrounding the parent's absence. They may even question whether they could have contributed to the absence, whether they somehow "deserved" to be abandoned, or whether the absent parent believes he or she is better off without the "burden" of a child.

What You Can Do:
  • Be very clear in telling your child, repeatedly, that he or she is not at fault.

  • Be specific when you praise your child.

  • Provide opportunities for your child to develop relationships with other adults, whom you trust, who can also convey genuine, positive messages about your child's abilities, character, and contribution to others. Tip: Find a mentor for your child.
Children with abandonment issues may have difficulty expressing their emotions: Children who have experienced parental abandonment may also have difficulty sharing their feelings. They tend to keep their emotions bottled up and lack the trust necessary to share their true selves with others.

What You Can Do:
  • When your child does express his emotions, affirm that you still love him - even when he's angry, sad, or frustrated. Tip: Write your child a letter.

  • Be trustworthy. Make a special effort not to share your child's confidences with friends, family members, and acquaintances.

  • Provide regular opportunities to connect with your child, creating an atmosphere where he or she will be free to open up when the time is right.
Resources:
Balcom, Dennis A. "Absent Fathers: Effects on Abandoned Sons." The Journal of Men's Studies 6.3 (1998): 283+. Questia. 31 Mar. 2008 [http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5001348916].

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