It’s a fairly well-known fact that children of divorced parents tend to go through a difficult time before, during, and after divorce. The effect of divorce can be long-lasting and contribute to shaping how children view marriage and family. But at what age are children most affected by divorce and how can you mitigate some of the trauma children have to result from the divorce experience?
Here at The Jimenez Law Firm, our goal is to help you and your children through the divorce process. We understand the challenges of divorce and its impact on the family structure. If you’re facing the possibility of getting divorced or separated, then it’s important to understand how the impact of divorce can influence your children on an emotional and behavioral level.
Psychological Effects of Divorce on Children
While research indicates that there is a link between the emotional well-being of children and divorce, that’s not to say there aren’t things you can do to make the process easier for your child. And, while the divorce is typically stressful for all children, some kids cope better than others.
It’s also been noted that different age groups handle divorce in different ways. By understanding how children of certain age groups handle divorce, you’re better prepared when it comes to helping your child through this difficult time.
How Much Does Divorce Affect a Child Under the Age of 3?
If you’re divorcing when your children are quite young then you may hear people say, “Don’t worry, they won’t remember.” However, this may not necessarily be true. A research study conducted in 2011 found that many children could remember events that happened very early in their lives. However, as time passes, children are more likely to forget these early childhood memories. Yet it’s important to realize that this doesn’t mean that divorce doesn’t affect them.
Parental separation can impact children under the age of 3 years in the following ways:
- They may become fussier when one parent is no longer around.
- They may be harder to console.
- They may become more clingy or insecure around new people as well as with the parent they live with.
- They may miss developmental milestones or regress.
In addition, as these are formative years, how these situations are handled can also have a lasting effect and may cause more problems down the road.
There are a few ways you can ease the pain of the transition for your young child including:
- Set and maintain a consistent routine with as little disruption as possible.
- Make sure both parents are on board with keeping the routine.
- Create a loving and secure environment with both parents.
- Expose your child to new people and situations in emotionally safe ways.
While it may seem as though progress is slow at this age, it’s best to remember that the steps you take now are for the emotional well-being of your child. Be patient and kind with your child and one another as you all work through this challenge.
If your child experiences the loss of a parent or you find yourself in a situation where you’re a single parent, do your best to create a secure, loving, and supportive environment for your child.
Children’s Mental Health and Divorce at Ages 3-5
The age of 3 to 5 years old is when children develop a better understanding of abstract concepts. This is a big reason why they tend to ask so many questions around this age. However, the concept of divorce may still be outside of their grasp. It’s around this age that children become more aware of fights between their parents. They may feel responsible. Typically, we see divorce impact children in this age group in the following ways:
- Your child may react to fights with tears, fear, and insisting you stop fighting.
- They may feel as though the fights or the divorce are their faults.
- This age group may also experience difficulties with sleep.
- They may also feel a need for control.
Typically, with this age group, once things stabilize the child will begin to feel more secure in the new family structure. However, the trauma left behind by these events may leave confusing memories and lasting emotions. You can mitigate the effects of divorce on your child by doing the following:
- Establish a routine and deviate as little as possible.
- Keep things as civil as possible with the other parent, especially in front of the child.
- Avoid loud fights and bad-mouthing the other parent in the child’s presence.
- Avoid making your child feel as though they need to choose sides between you and the other parent.
- Consider mediation to establish a set routine across both households for the emotional and behavioral well-being of your child.
Be patient with children in this age group, do your best to answer questions without saying anything negative about the other spouse, and offer reassurance that the divorce is not their fault, all while establishing and maintaining routine to provide them with control and stability.
What Happens When You Divorce with a Child Aged 6-12
Elementary school-aged children often have the most difficult time when it comes to child divorce trauma. This is largely in part because they’re old enough to remember the family as a whole and also better able to understand the complex feelings associated with the loss of family structure as they know it. At this age, feelings of guilt and conflict are also often more pronounced. Your child may ask you questions or make statements such as:
- What did I do?
- If you love me, why are you leaving?
- I promise I will listen and be good.
These questions and statements, along with others, revolve around the child as they try to make sense of their role in the divorce. Rather than understanding that the family issues stem from problems between the adults, they feel as though the problem lies within themselves.
These feelings and what happens during these years can lead to depression and other mental, emotional, and behavioral challenges for your child. They may withdraw, become anxious, and even stop communicating. Some children in this age group struggle with changes and lash out in anger. This could include making hurtful comments toward one parent or the other or comparing their experiences with their parents. Their teachers may also notice challenges in the classroom regarding your child’s relationships with their friends and other adults.
While this group seems to take divorce the hardest, there are still things you can do when it comes to helping children in this age group.
- Try to avoid fighting in front of the children.
- Minimize conflict and work out details away from the children or with a mediator to reduce the chances of outbursts in front of your children.
- Remain actively involved in your child’s life as long as it’s the best thing for the child.
- Provide love, support, and reassurance as they transition through this challenging time.
- Consider family therapy.
As children in this age group grow and mature, they often come to understand the situation. However, it can take years for them to process this major life change. Don’t be afraid to seek out help for yourself and your child if they continue to struggle with parental divorce. Children’s divorce counseling has helped many young children come to terms with what has happened while helping them navigate their feelings.
Can Divorce Affect Child Development in Teenagers?
Teenagers are much more likely to understand divorce and separation than their younger siblings. For some, divorce may be a relief if they consistently witnessed family issues and fighting. Teens also don’t seem to question their parents’ love as much as younger kids because they tend to find more support outside of the home. However, that’s not to say that divorce doesn’t impact their lives at all.
Even though acceptance generally comes more readily to teenagers, it’s still important that you don’t assume they’re okay. Speak with your teens to provide love and support while answering any questions. Keep your eyes open for the signs of depression including symptoms of an eating disorder, anxiety, diminished self-worth or self-esteem, new or increased sexual behavior, signs of substance use or drug use, other psychological problems, as well as any other seemingly attention-seeking behavior. While it may seem as though your teen is fine, they may be hurting on the inside, especially if you withdraw from them as you process your feelings regarding the divorce.
Keep the lines of communication open and offer them the opportunity to speak with a counselor.
Empowering Your Children Before, During, and After Divorce
Getting divorced isn’t just difficult for parents. It impacts the lives of everyone in the family. And, while the divorce rate has climbed and divorce is more common, that doesn’t mean it isn’t painful for your children. Emotions run high during a divorce and, while it can be mentally and emotionally draining for you, it’s important to still spend some time helping children understand their emotions and the new situation. Following a divorce, your child will need you more than ever and the time you spend offering support and building on your bond with your children will help them in the long run. It’s your parental responsibility to ensure they feel safe, cared for, and loved throughout the process and beyond.
Peaceful co-parenting is vital when it comes to children and divorce. However, maintaining healthy parenting relationships can be a challenge when parents feel their own pain and anger regarding the divorce. Mediation is an excellent tool that keeps couples focused on the children’s lives and making the best decisions for the children. While kids adjust over time, it’s important to remember that you need to tell kids that the divorce is not their fault and provide a safe and loving environment, regardless of their age. A child of divorce shouldn’t have to carry the burden of their parent’s divorce.
One of the best things you can do for your child no matter their age is to hire an experienced family law attorney. At The Jimenez Law Firm, we look out for your rights and the rights of your children. We’re here to ensure your divorce is fair and that you and your kids are protected.