Divorce Effects on Children: What You Must Know
Divorce is a massive change for every member of the family. It impacts everyone. We know that as a mom, you want to know how divorce effects your children so you can be there to protect and lessen any negative effects. All children are different and will be affected in different ways, and at the end of the day, you know your child best. However, this article will discuss some struggles and strengths children might encounter through a parents’ divorce and how to best support them throughout.
Factors that Determine the Impact and Effects of Divorce on a Child
Not every child will be impacted by a divorce in the same way. Some children might be heavily influenced, and some might not be. You know your child best, and you are the best person to understand how they will respond. Divorce effects children differently depending on certain factors. These include things like gender and age. Divorce impacts boys and girls equally. However, they may present psychological challenges in different ways. Boys tend to show more acute signs of depression stemming from a parent’s divorce, while girls may act out more in response.
Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers
Additionally, age plays a significant role in how a divorce effects children. While an infant is too young to understand a divorce, babies can understand stress. If your custody plan involves many moving parts and places, an infant can be impacted by a lack of stability and structure. Toddlers and preschoolers are also affected by divorce. While they do not understand the nuances of divorce, they rely heavily on their parents for support and growth. Therefore, a drastic change in home life can lead to increased crying and attention-seeking behavior. Reinforcing routines and prioritizing a smooth transition to post-divorce life can help a young child cope with divorce.
As they grow older, school-aged children might feel like they are to blame for the divorce. They are in a period where the world is often seen as purely good or bad. Often, they will struggle to see how divorce fits into their worldview. They might also feel personally hurt by the divorce. It will be helpful to reassure them they were not the cause of the divorce and to spend extra quality time with them to adjust to the new normal.
Preteens and Teenagers
A divorce will be challenging for preteens and teenagers because they likely can comprehend what is happening. They can, at some level, understand what is happening. This can manifest itself in anger and blame. They are likely to be upset about the situation and angry that the divorce occurred, even if it was the right move for the family. Allowing them space and support while they process their feelings can help them cope. Again, you know your children best. You have the tools and personal knowledge to help your children through the divorce.
Check out “How to Tell Your Grown Up Children You are Divorcing,” if you are a mother of older kids. We know they need attention, too.
Struggles: Emotional Impact
Children will struggle with their emotions and feelings throughout the divorce process. Kids are likely to experience intense emotions as a result. Their whole concept of family and the world has been substantially altered. The first year following the divorce is the most common year for children to struggle with the emotional impacts. They might feel intense sadness at the separation or anger at one or both parents for not making it work. They might also feel anger or guilt at themselves if they believe the divorce was their fault. Many children can also develop anxiety or depression due to a divorce. It is essential for you to be attuned to your child’s changes in demeanor and seek professional help when appropriate.
Struggles: Long-Term Relationship Building
Another unintended consequence is the social withdrawal and social effects of divorce on a child. This can look like an insecure attachment to parents, friends, and loved ones. Young children may feel a lack of attachment or an over-attachment to one or both parents. This can be due to a perceived misunderstanding of abandonment as custody is determined. This has the potential to lead to a lack of trust or belonging in family groups. Additionally, it has the potential to impact future romantic relationships. This means they may develop a negative outlook toward romantic partnership if they feel unsure of what the concept of love means.
Struggles: Stress and Behavioral Issues
A parent’s divorce is a stressful time for a child. Stress can come from various factors, including feeling responsible for the relationship breakdown, trying to mend the relationship, and changing life circumstances. This stress can manifest itself in increased behavioral issues. Children might act out with impulsivity, temper tantrums, stubbornness, or fighting in the wake of the divorce. They can engage in attention-seeking behaviors at home or school in response to the changes at home.
Children are resilient beings. They are known for their ability to cope and adapt to challenging situations. Through resiliency, they can recover from setbacks and resume living a normal life. Children of divorce tend to develop stronger coping methods from an earlier age, and with your guidance, these can be positive coping mechanisms. Additionally, with time, they can adjust and thrive in the new living situation.
Strengths: Stronger Relationships
A potentially unexpected positive impact on a child whose parents are going through a divorce is the strengthening of familial relationships. This is especially true among siblings. Siblings go through divorce together and can help bring each other stability during this time. Additionally, with intentional planning, you can forge a stronger relationship with your child. Depending on your custody plan, you can use your time with your child to be fully present and meaningful with how you spend time bonding with your child. This can create an even stronger familial bond.
Strengths: Increased Empathy
Seeing their family’s struggle with a divorce can make children more attuned to people’s feelings. They are more likely to be sympathetic, and they can understand their peers’ family problems as they have gone through them themselves. They also might generally develop a better grasp of feelings and emotions within themselves and those around them.
Strengths: Modeling Behavior
Divorce is a time to model many positive traits to your children. You have the potential to teach them valuable new skills. It includes self-sufficiency as you become a single parent. It includes cooperation as you and your Ex learn how to co-parent together. It includes self-worth and rebirth as you find yourself again and learn you are enough. Your improved well-being and growth can expose your children to positive benefits and character traits to guide your children through life.
How to Support Your Child Through a Divorce
Divorce will impact your child. However, you can help them process it in a safe, loving way. You can give them the tools and resources they need to cope with the change. This can come in the form of therapy or counseling to process their emotions. It can also come in the form of extra-curricular activities to encourage normalcy and healthy social development.
Work to validate their feelings and be mindful of how you show your emotions surrounding the divorce around the younger members of your family. Additionally, this is a great time to model positive traits to your children. You can practice self-compassion, a focus on mental well-being, and cooperation in a coparenting model. This is a chance for you to spend intentional, quality time with your children to forge a beautiful new beginning out of the burning fire. Overall, respecting your children’s boundaries, feelings, and needs during this transition can help your children grow and thrive even in the face of divorce.
A divorce will be a difficult time for your family, and being a mom going through one is scary. You need to do the right thing to protect your peace as well as your children’s peace. But know, through love, attention, and support, your children can grow through this new experience.
Elizabeth Newland is a third-year law student in Chicago committed to children and family rights. She aims to work in a family-related non-profit firm after graduation.
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*We support same-sex marriages. For the sake of simplicity in this article, however, we refer to your spouse as your “husband” or a “he.”