How Divorce Affects Young Children from Birth to School Age

How Divorce Affects Young Children from Birth to School Age…

It’s no surprise that divorce is a big change for young children. They can’t understand How Divorce Affects Young Children From Birth to School Agethe complex adult problems that led to their parent’s divorce, so they often feel confused, upset, and even abandoned. We’ll break down how divorce affects young children from birth to school age, as well as how you can help your young children through this transition.

Infants

The youngest members of the family not only don’t understand what’s going on, and they may not even be able to speak their feelings. This can make this age group particularly challenging when it comes to the coping process. There are other factors that can make co-parenting difficult during this stage, including nap and feeding schedules- particularly if the mother is breastfeeding.

Common Problems:

  • Separation anxiety/clinging to one parent
  • Increased temper tantrums
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Difficulty feeding
  • Developmental delays (speech, walking, etc)

What to Do:

  • Maintain a consistent schedule/routine whenever possible
  • Encourage a relationship with both parents
  • Provide security items like a blanket or pacifier
  • Create a soothing bedtime routine (i.e. a warm bath, infant massage, meditation music)
  • Offer physical comfort like cuddling and rocking
  • Involve other positive role models in your child’s life

Toddlers/Preschoolers

This age group is a little more aware of what’s going on, and they’re also able to express some of their feelings, but they still don’t have the capacity to fully grasp the divorce. At this age, kids may think they did something wrong to cause the divorce, so regular reassurance is an important part of the coping process.

Common Problems:

  • Sleep regression
  • Difficulty potty training
  • Frequent crying/outbursts
  • Strong desire for attention (particularly from their parents)
  • Trouble adjusting when going back and forth between homes

What to Do:

  • Create consistent routines at both households
  • Talk about your child’s feelings in an age-appropriate manner
  • Read books/watch videos on the topic of divorce that are age-appropriate
  • Assure your child that they aren’t responsible for the divorce
  • Be on the same page with your co-parent when it comes to discipline
  • Have them participate in art therapy

School-Age Children

Children this age are starting to understand the concept of relationships, but still may not fully grasp what a divorce means. They may feel like the non-custodial parent is abandoning them, so it’s important for them to maintain a strong relationship with that parent. School-age children usually believe in fairytales, and they may have a fantasy in their head about their parents getting back together. Gently remind them that while the divorce is permanent, so is your love for them.

Common Problems:

  • Trouble in school (learning, behavioral problems)
  • “Siding” with one parent in the divorce
  • Struggles with anxiety or depression
  • Frequent stomach aches or headaches that keep them home from school
  • Lack of desire for things they used to enjoy (sports, extracurricular activities)

What to Do:

  • Encouraging your child to be open with their feelings
  • Have each parent spend quality time with the child
  • Find things that boost their self-esteem (i.e. activities they enjoy, spending time with friends)
  • Encourage them to journal their thoughts
  • Maintain consistency with schedules and discipline between houses
  • Seek help from a therapist at school or outside of school

The Outlook

While young children may struggle with a divorce, most adjust within two years. Children benefit most when their parents work together to maintain a calm and consistent environment for them. Some children may struggle beyond the initial adjustment stage. Don’t be afraid to seek help for your child from a therapist or qualified mentor. The sooner you start addressing the problem, the better.

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Essential Resources

If you’re facing legal/custody battles, a mental health crisis, an urgent medical issue, serious emotional problems, including suicidal thoughts, please seek help from the appropriate professionals near you.

Suicide hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
Crisis line: 1-800-356-5395
Crisis text line: Text “help” to 741741
The National Domestic Violence Hotline
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV)

Split.fyi Resources
Split.fyi Marital Life Inventory
Divorce Lifecycle Document
Divorce Process Overview

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