How Children are Affected By Divorce

children_divorce
Dr. Kristin Davin

By Dr. Kristin Davin | Jan 16th, 2019

Divorce is a game changer in a child’s life. That we know. It creates significant physical, emotional, financial, and psychological changes. Feelings of loss and separation abound. Sadness and pain of the breakup of their family unit, the anger they feel that often gets expressed either internally (stomach aches, headaches) or externally (through behavior problems, acting out) are very common.

Children struggle to adjust to living without one parent every day, as they shuffle between two homes, splitting and sharing their time. They are often caught in the middle of potential conflicts between their parents, enduring at times economic hardship, broken bonds with a parent, loss of emotional security and stability, and multiple emotional stressors. They do this while hanging on tight as they ride the emotional roller coaster of the inherent ups and downs and uncertainties of their life. Of their parent’s divorce. It’s a new life they never asked for but for one they have no choice to endure.

Long term, children of divorce are more aggressive towards their teachers and parents. They are more often referred for psychological help due to heightened anxiety and depression, struggle to get along with their peers, and more likely to divorce themselves (Wallerstein, 2000).

Yet, although divorce affects a child’s world in impactful ways, there are many things that parents can do – individually and collectively – to help them navigate this major change in their lives in positive and healthy ways.

Preschool Children

This is a very sensitive developmental stage for preschool children. They have developed a strong attachment to each parent, but young and vulnerable to possible breaks in attachment and a fear of abandonment because family means everything to them. It is common for many children to fanaticize that their parents will get back together again. They are aware of what is happening.

And although they understand many things, they do not fully understand or grasp the meaning of divorce and often react with confusion. This may be demonstrated through thinking if one parent left, maybe the other one will leave, too. Or, thinking they are to blame for their parents break up (thinking they did something wrong or if they behaved better, then their parents would still be together). They will search for an explanation for what they know best – their own thoughts and experiences.

Possible effects of divorce are:

What parents can do:

School-age children

During this stage of development, elementary-aged children have begun the process of figuring out who they are and their own identity with a focus on building their self-esteem. Despite the divorce, their relationship with the other parent is critical in how their view themselves and maintaining that relationship. They also have a greater understanding of their parent’s divorce. However, this can increase their feelings of sadness and loss because they are better able to grasp the depth and the full implications of their parent’s divorce. Many may also have second-hand knowledge through their friends at school who are experiencing something similar. They are more prone to getting their feelings hurt by negative words expressed by their peers as they deeply value their family unit as it’s an extension of their own identity and divorce makes them feel betrayed by their parents. Yet, they continue to hope their parents will reconcile.

Possible effects of divorce are:

What parents can do:

Adolescents

Developmentally, adolescents are more independent, relying more on friends for support and guidance than younger children, they are still dependent on their parents emotionally, physically, and financially. Yet, they are just as affected by their parent’s divorce as younger children but are affected in different ways.

Possible effects of divorce are:

What parents shouldn’t do:

What parents can do:

At the end of the day, one of the most important things that you can do as a parent is to simply talk with and listen to your child. They need to know that you are emotionally and physically available for them as this will provide them with a safe place to share their feelings, which will better equip you to understand what exactly is bothering them.

Finally, as a parent, it’s imperative that you work through your own negative emotions with friends and family and not use your child or children as a sounding board as this will only prolong their adjustment and increase their distress. Being able to speak positively about your ex as this is your child’s parent speaks volumes and will have a positive long-lasting effect on their overall health and well-being both now and in the future.

Dr. Kristin Davin

Dr. Kristin Davin


Kristin Davin is a Relationship Therapist and Coach. She helps people embrace change, cultivate healthier relationships, and become more effective communicators.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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