It’s normal for parents to feel anxious about how getting a divorce will affect their children. Whether your child is a tiny baby or a teen on the brink of adulthood, divorce will have an impact on their life. But here’s the good news: experts say that many children can adjust well to divorce over the long-term, particularly if the parents keep conflict to a minimum. Here’s an age-by-age guide to look at the effect of divorce on children and what you can do about it.
Babies and Toddlers
You might believe that because your child is too small to understand divorce, they won’t feel anything about it. But babies and toddlers are very sensitive to familial tension and changes, even if they can’t express it. During or following the divorce, you may notice that your baby or toddler suffers from separation anxiety or emotional outbursts, or may display irritability. The best way to help them is for both parents to give them plenty of physical affection and attention. Such demonstrations of love will make them feel reassured and secure even as they adjust to the new family dynamic.
Your child is old enough to comprehend the change in the family structure but may have trouble verbally articulating their feelings about it. It’s not unusual for kids from this age group to start acting out, suffer from nightmares, or become clingy. As with smaller children, give as much affection and reassurance your child as possible. Also, it’s a good idea to read age-appropriate books about divorce and help them to discuss their feelings in a healthy manner.
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At this age group, kids are likely to understand the concept of divorce but uncertain about what it’ll mean for them. They might worry that the non-custodial parent doesn’t love them as much or that they won’t see that parent as much as before. These worries might manifest in negative ways such a poor school performance, fighting with peers, or increased physical ailments, such as stomachaches or headaches. Talking to your children about their feelings is especially important at this age. Both parents should work hard to make sure the child feels loved, listened to, and reassured that the divorce was not their fault.
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Divorce is often very tough on teens, who are already going through a period of uncertainty and self-discovery. It’s common for teens whose parents are divorcing to react in a range of ways, including suffering from sleeping difficulties (whether too much or not enough), performing poorly in school, or even, sometimes, engaging in self-destructive behavior.
Speak openly, honestly, and often with your teen about their feelings about the divorce and try to ensure that they’re engaged in healthy activities they enjoy. Show interest in these activities and even actively participate, if appropriate. If they are engaged in self-destructive behavior or showing signs of depression, don’t hesitate to find a professional counselor to help them.