Every parent going through divorce worries about how the split will impact the children. Except for the very young, children hearing the news of the divorce will naturally feel sad, anxious or angry. They may have a hard time understanding how their lives will change.
Every child is different, and some are more emotionally mature than others. Nonetheless, family experts say that age group has common traits that point to how much children comprehend divorce and the new family structure. Armed with this knowledge, parents can better help the children through this time of transition.
Birth to 18 months
Infants are surprisingly good at sensing the tension in the family and may get irritable, clingy or regress in their development. Parents can strive to keep everything as consistent as possible with the child’s daily routines, including meals, sleep schedule, blankets and toys.
18 months to three years
Parents are the center of the universe during this period, making any change difficult, including divorce. They may regress, resist toilet training or have big feelings of abandonment. Mom and dad can be more attentive and strive to create a steady routine. Reassure them that it is not their fault.
Three to six years
They may strive to control situations and yet feel responsible for the split. They may bottle up anger and unpleasant thoughts or have nightmares. Parents can be a bit more open about what is going on, perhaps introduce age-appropriate books about divorce, and make sure that both remain active in the child’s life.
Six to 11 years
The younger side of this spectrum may think that parent is leaving them and not each other, while the older ones may assign blame for the split and behave accordingly. There may be phantom illnesses to stay home from school. Reassuring them that both parents will remain involved is key. To avoid parental alienation, parents should avoid speaking ill of their coparent. It may help to get them more involved in after-school activities.
12 and up
They will certainly have their own ideas about what happened and how the split will affect their lives. Parents can listen to what the child says, but they should stay stable and consistent. Do not over-share the gory details of the split and try to foster a balanced relationship with both parents. Act like a parent by setting limits and expectations while also remaining flexible.
Every child’s needs are different
Some children will take the news harder than others. Depending on the child, professional counseling may be helpful. There will be a learning curve for both parents and the children, but patience and engagement can go a long way toward a healthy parent-child relationship. In turn, this can have a positive impact on the children’s lives as they grow up, date, marry, and raise families.