Research tells us that children of divorce face many risks. It is a major challenge for kids to cope with the drastic change that is inevitable after their parents split and that adjustment is even tougher if they are exposed to the conflict of divorce.
How children of divorce respond to news of their parents’ split can also vary wildly depending on their age. Your 4-year-old toddler is probably going to take the news of your divorce a whole lot differently than your 15-year-old who is about to get their driver’s license.
Below you will find an age-by-age guide walking you through how children are likely to respond to your divorce. You also will find tips for how you can help ease this difficult transition for them.
No matter your child’s age, the best thing you can do to ensure a healthy adjustment after your divorce is ensuring that they have a strong and loving relationship with both you and their mother. Unfortunately, that is not always possible if your child custody order pushes you out of the picture. That is why it is so important for you to find a family law attorney who focuses on men’s divorce and protecting the rights of fathers.
As soon as it is apparent that your marriage is heading for divorce get in touch with a divorce lawyer for men, so that you have an advocate in your corner looking out for the best interests of both you and your child.
Toddlers (18 months to 3 years)
The cognitive ability of toddlers is very limited, which makes divorce very confusing.
They also have yet to develop the coping skills needed to adjust to such a dramatic life change. That leaves them particularly vulnerable to emotional problems later in life.
The younger a child is, the more self-centered they are and the more likely they are to personalize your divorce, meaning they may end up feeling like your divorce is their fault. When a toddler’s parents divorce, it is not unusual to see them regress and return to behaviors such as thumb sucking and bedwetting, and they might struggle sleeping alone at night.
Easing the transition: As much as possible, work to establish a predictable routine that is easy for your child to follow. Focus on spending plenty of time with your child and offer extra attention anytime you notice them acting scared or lonely.
Be patient with your child if they show any behavior problems. Keep in mind how confusing this adjustment is for them and show compassion and empathy anytime they act out or express sadness about the situation.
Preschoolers (3 to 6 years)
It is difficult for a preschooler to grasp the concept of divorce and they will want their parents to stay together regardless of how unpleasant the home environment is.
Children in this age bracket might be more likely to believe they are the reason their parents are separating. Feelings of anger and fear about the uncertainty of their lives are common.
Easing the transition: Children this age tend to reflect whatever moods their parents are in, so try to handle your divorce in a positive and respectful manner.
Although your preschooler will probably be too young to fully understand what is happening, you still need to be there to talk to them and answer questions they might have.
There also are children’s divorce books written for preschoolers that can help them relate to what is happening.
How children of divorce respond to news of their parents’ split can also vary wildly depending on their age.
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School-age children (6 to 12 years)
Since school-aged children are a little older, they might have gotten used to the nurturing environment you raised them in. Now that their parents are suddenly splitting, it is natural for them to experience fear of abandonment.
How much your child understands about divorce still will vary depending on how old they are.
Kids ages 8 and younger are less likely to grasp what is happening and more likely to blame themselves for their parents’ breakup.
Children age 8 to 11 are prone to blaming one parent in particular and choosing sides. Boys often lash out aggressively against siblings or classmates, and girls tend to withdraw and become anxious or depressed.
Easing the transition: Since your child is likely struggling with feelings of loss and rejection during your divorce, you need to focus on establishing a sense of security for them and rebuilding their self-confidence.
The best way to do this is by makings sure both you and your ex-wife spend plenty of quality time with them and encourage them to discuss their feelings. Reinforce that neither of you are abandoning them and that the divorce is in no way their fault.
As with the younger age groups, a steady routine can go a long way toward helping your school-age child adjust after your divorce. Regular times to eat, do homework, and go to bed are critical.
It is important to help your child maintain a healthy social life, so encourage them to get involved in extra-curricular activities they have interest in. This is a great way for your child to rebuild their self-esteem and connect with other kids their age, rather than withdrawing from the world.
If you notice persistent unusual behavior from your child in the wake of your divorce, regardless of their age, it might be worth enlisting the help of a professional counselor or therapist. They can gain valuable insight into what is going on with your child and can help give you the tools you need to guide them through this difficult transition.
Teenagers (13 to 19 years)
A child’s adolescent and teenage years are developmentally crucial, and a parental divorce has the potential to disrupt their maturation and harm the relationships they build as adults.
At this age, your teenager is more likely to understand the complexities of divorce, but teens also tend to be more judgmental and are quicker to assign blame.
Teenagers are often intelligent and might seem like adults, which causes many parents to make the mistaken assumption that they are more mature than they actually are. Science shows their brains continue developing until age 25 or 26.
Easing the transition: Just because your teenager appears mature, do not use them as a confidant during your divorce. That throws more pressure on them than they deserve.
Avoid insulting your ex in front of them as it is important for their development to have loving relationships with both you and their mother.
Offer to let your teen vent whenever they need to and encourage them to be honest about what they are feeling, even if that means they end up expressing anger towards you.
Take steps to establish a wider support network of family, friends, and teachers so that your child knows they have plenty of loved ones behind them. Sometimes it is easier for them to open up to someone other than a parent.
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