On the day you get married, standing in front of your friends and family, you look into the eyes of your true love and utter the words, “…for better or for worse.” Unfortunately, as true as you wanted it to be on that day, there comes a time when the love is gone and the marriage isn’t surviving.
When there are kids in the picture, parents often may ask themselves if they should stay together for the kids. While the choice is ultimately made between you and your spouse, divorce will affect children in distinct ways depending on their age.
Pre-Schoolers May Regress During a Divorce
For small children who are growing and learning new things every day, divorce is a complicated subject to grasp. Children aged 3-7 don’t want their parents to split no matter how bad things are at home. These small kiddos still believe they are the center of the universe and no matter what their size, they have mom and dad wrapped around their fingers. Small children are completely dependent upon and love spending time with their parents. A divorce can shake a child’s understanding of relationships, dependency and security.
Common reactions from young children are ones full of uncertainty. Parents can expect many unsettling questions to come their way including, “If mom or daddy moves away, will they be gone forever?” or “Will my mom and dad stop loving me if they stopped loving each other?” Some reactions could include bed-wetting, tantrums, separation anxiety and other attention-grabbing maneuvers as a way to elicit a connection with their parents.
Reassure your children time and time again that they are loved and cared for. Maintain a positive and comforting environment whenever possible. Try to have regular, scheduled visits with the non-custodial parent (as long as it is safe) and be sure not to skip out on any of them.
Elementary Aged Children Act Out Through a Divorce
These children are at a pivotal time in their lives. Whereas a child might seem to rebel against growing up, an adolescent will rebel against their parents. Divorce seems to be an accelerant toward independence for preteens. Kids from 8 to 12 may often feel like their parents are separating themselves from the children and not from each other. Worse, your children may feel like they are the reason for divorce.
Young boys may show their feelings through fighting and lashing out with anger whereas girls may retreat or become anxious or vice versa. There are no rules as to how a child, male or female, may react. Both young boys and girls will often participate in activities more dedicated to their own personal interest. Just as the parents have disconnected from one another, the preteen, in a recently divorced family, will most likely disconnect as well.
Encourage your children to build positive friendships and become involved in extracurricular activities. Give them an outlet to seek refuge amongst their peers as well as build their self-esteem. When your child has questions about the divorce, be respectful of the other parents and explain that divorce is a mutual decision. Just as with a small child, it is important that regular, scheduled visits are maintained in order to continue building a relationship of love and trust between the child and their parents.
Teens Struggle to Find a Way Through Divorce
Parents see their children growing up, coming into their own and maturing in their teens. Just because teens want their parents to think they are fully grown, this doesn’t mean it’s anywhere close to the truth. Research shows the human brain continues to change and develop into the mid-20s of a person’s life. Emotional maturity can be a totally separate equation.
Teens aged 13-18 are supposed to be finding their own path to independence while feeling supported and cared for from home. When divorce breaks up a home, the teen often feels as if the parents are seeking independence from the teen instead of the other way around. Feelings of insecurity, anxiety, depression and anger are typical feelings of an adolescent in a broken home.
In a teenagers’ world, everything is black and white. They need a safe place to vent and discover their feelings when they have no desire to communicate with their parents. Encourage your child to seek support from their peer groups, especially friends who might be going through similar situations. Even still, be aware of their characteristics and activities that might lead to self-destructive behavior. If any such behavior arises, please encourage them to seek help immediately. In the end, the example you set as a parent throughout the divorce can have a lifelong impact on your child.