Pre teenage children are starting to come out of their 'latency period' and signs of their development are more obvious. The changes are usually more pronounced in girls than boys. Their relationships with friends are becoming stronger while their relationships with parents are moving into a less intense phase. They will demand less from mum and dad and start to be developing their own, independent selves outside of the family structures. Children of both sexes feel the need for greater privacy at this age and it's important that they get it.
Family separation at this point interrupts these normal developmental processes. Both girls and boys can regress, feeling afraid and not wanting to grow up. In an attempt to control the world around them, some children will develop issues around eating. This can affect both boys and girls. Boys will sometimes try to take care of their mum and challenge their dad more. Girls will often assume their mum's role and take responsibility for the care of their dad.
Boys can become hostile towards their dad. Conversely, girls may become closer to their dad and prefer being with him than with their mum. Children of this age will usually have developed strong moral codes and boys, in particular, may have a strong sense of right and wrong. They will often blame the parent they see as being responsible for the separation.
Signs of distress
Children in the nine to eleven age group will very often become angry, especially towards the parent that they think is responsible for the separation. They often feel frightened and want nothing more than for their mum and dad to get back together again. You may notice a drop in school performance and sometimes an increase in headaches, sickness or nightmares. Look out for problems around eating, especially with girls.
Things that help
Make sure your children have their own room or privacy as much as possible, they need to have space to process things and to develop their separate identity. Keep them to a routine of eating together. It can be helpful to make meal times a ritual by sharing cooking and ideas around what to cook and eat. Keep an eye on how they're eating and use the time for discussions about health and well being. Try to keep it light. Deal with any hostility, which will usually come from boys, gently. Guide them through their anger and remain adult. Stay boundaried, don't get drawn into battles and try not to take it personally. Demonstrate to girls that you don't need to be taken care of and that you are their to take care of their needs rather than the other way round. Remain an adult at all times, setting expectations and offering warmth and reassurance. Try to keep up good communication with your child's other parent so that you both know what's going on in their lives.
Things to avoid
Whilst it's important to offer your children space and privacy, make sure that you don't allow them to retreat into their room for hours at a time. It's important not to let them regularly eat meals in their room as this will prevent you from keeping an eye on any eating problems that might develop. Don't allow any hostility that you encounter make you feel rejected by your children, it's just a temporary reaction to the separation. Stay strong and remain adult and talk calmly and authoritatively about the separation. Dads need to be aware that their daughter might, subconsciously, be driven to take on the role of partner. Don't let her.