A separation or divorce is an extremely painful experience for those involved; however, children often feel their entire world has turned upside down. At any age, it’s traumatic to see the end of your parents’ marriage and the breakup of the family unit. Children feel uncertain, shocked, or even angry. Some might feel guilty, and they blame themselves for the problems at home. Divorce is never a smooth process and, inevitably, it causes confusion, grief, and hardship to the entire family.
However, you can reduce your children’s trauma by prioritizing their well-being. Your reassurance, patience, and a listening ear can ease tension as your children learn to cope with unfamiliar circumstances. With your support, you can help your kids successfully navigate this difficult time, and even come out feeling loved, confident, and strong. Our parenting guide to divorce can help you better understand how divorce affects children and how to protect your children during a divorce.
At What Age Does Divorce Affect a Child?
Divorce is hard on everyone, whether you’re 50 years old or just 2. And if you have kids, their well-being is probably your primary concern. Divorce affects children of all ages, but it’s probably hardest on elementary-age children.
Infant children feel the tension between their parents, but they can’t understand the reason behind the conflict. If the tension continues, the baby may become irritable and clingy, especially around strangers, and have regular emotional outbursts. Also, they may regress or show signs of developmental delay.
During toddler years, a child’s primary bond is with their parents, so any major disruption in home life can be difficult for them to accept and understand. They may cry and want more attention, regress and return to thumb sucking, have a fear of being abandoned, resist toilet training, or have trouble sleeping.
Preschoolers don’t understand the entire concept of divorce, and they want their parents to stay together–no matter the tension at home. Divorce is a hard concept for preschoolers to understand because they feel like they have no control over the outcome. Just like toddlers, preschoolers feel they’re ultimately responsible for their parent’s separation. They may be uncertain about the future, keep their anger bottled inside, have unpleasant ideas and thoughts, or be plagued by nightmares.
When elementary-age children grow up in a nurturing environment, it’s inevitable for them to have a fear of being abandoned during a divorce. Children aged 5 to 8 don’t understand the concept of divorce, and they may feel their parents are abandoning them. They may worry about losing their dad and fantasize that their parents will get back together. Often, they believe they can rescue their parent’s marriage.
Children at the ages of 8 to 11 blame one parent for the divorce. And they align themselves with the “good” parent against the “bad” parent. They may accuse their parents of being selfish and mean and express their anger in various ways: Girls might become anxious, withdrawn, and depressed, while boys might fight with classmates or lash against the world.
Often, teenagers are self-centered, however, unlike elementary-age kids, their world revolves around their life outside their home. Pre-teens and teens worry more about getting on with their lives and how the divorce will affect their social situation; if they’ll have to move away from their friends and they idealize the past.
Thus, divorce is hard for children of all ages, and it can have a lasting impact on your kids and you. Don’t forget that during this stressful time, your kids need you, so take care of yourself and be there for your children to help them navigate through this tough time.
How Can I Make My Kid’s Divorce Easier?
Divorce isn’t easy. Children often feel the brunt of it and can blame themselves for the divorce. Even with an uncontested divorce, things can get rocky, and the children are left in the middle. Divorce is never easy for anyone, especially young children. Dealing with the dissolution of a marriage is tough on both spouses. In fact, it’s one of the most devastating life experiences you can ever go through. However, as a parent, you need to put your children’s well-being as a top priority.
Here are tips for parents going through a divorce:
- Avoid arguing in front of the kids. Although it may be difficult, avoid arguing in front of your kids. If there’s an issue, if possible, save the argument for a time when the children aren’t around. Because the more children see you argue, the sadder and depressed they get. They’ll feel guilty, especially if the argument is about them.
- Carve out ‘family time’ once in a while. If you and your former spouse are civil enough, try to have “family” nights once a month, especially during the beginning of the transition. This will show your kids that even though their parents aren’t together, they can still enjoy a family game night or a family dinner now and then. Spending an hour or two with your ex-spouse may be hard, but it’ll make your children happy, which is worth the sacrifice.
- Show your children how much you love them. Above everything else, show how much you love your kid through actions and words. Focus most of your energy on them while allowing them time to process what’s happening and move on with their life. If they want to talk with their dad on the phone more than before because he isn’t there. Let them do what they need to do. Let your kids know that no matter what has happened, the relationship between you and them will never change, and you’ll always love them.
- Don’t say bad things about the other parent. It’s tempting to bad mouth your ex, or talk about how selfish and mean they’re, but don’t do it. Remember, while they’re no longer your spouse, they’re still your child’s parent. You don’t want your child growing up thinking that their mother or father is a terrible person. Instead, focus on the positive aspects of your ex-spouse.
Should We Stay Together for the Kids?
Most parents believe divorce will cause irreparable damage to their kids. Thus, some parents are afraid about what this may do to their children, so they choose to remain in unhappy, abusive, and conflict-ridden marriages.
Is it best to stay together only for the sake of the children?
Typically, the short-term answer is yes because children thrive in predictable, secure families with two parents who love them and love each other. Divorce is unsettling and destabilizing unless there’s a conflict or parental abuse.
In the long-run, however, divorce can lead to happier outcomes for the kids. When parents are always arguing and deeply incompatible, divorce can be a relief for kids, a chance to breathe fresh air, free of tensions of a toxic relationship. If you and your ex handle the changes in the family structure well, your children can experience a temporary disruption but will achieve long-term strength and resiliency.
If you’re concerned about your kid’s ability to build a happy, productive adult life for themselves, the answer is no. Try to make your marriage work, but don’t stay in a toxic relationship only for the sake of your kids.
How Does an Angry Parent Affect a Child?
Primarily kids learn through observation, so the behavior the parents are modeling becomes the template for how the child behaves as well. When children constantly observe abusive behavior from their primary caregiver, that behavior becomes their behavior as well. Thus, these children ultimately grow up with a reduced ability to control their emotions. Children of angry parent are:
- More aggressive and non-compliant.
- Less empathetic.
- Have poor overall adjustment.
- There’s a direct relationship between parental anger and delinquency.
- The effects of parental anger can continue throughout one’s adult life by increasing depression, social alienation, spousal abuse, and economic and career achievement.
Contact Our Colorado Springs Divorce Attorneys for Legal Advice!
If you’re looking for an experienced family law lawyer in Colorado Springs, Brighter Day℠ Law is the largest law firm devoted to serving clients in Colorado Springs and throughout Colorado. Our team of experienced and dedicated divorce attorneys understands how hard the divorce process can be, and we are ready to help you and your children get the best possible outcome. We also handle other family law cases like child custody, child support and order modifications. Call us today at (719) 225-4443, or chat with us online to schedule an initial consultation.