Ages & Stages: Reactions of a Child

There are a number of important factors that affect how your children will react to divorce. Kids In The Middle Therapist, Shana Blumenthal, LCSW, describes some reactions by age. Remember, it can take two or more years for children to adjust to their parents’ divorce.

Preschool Children

  • May believe they caused the divorce
  • May have an intense fear of being left alone or abandoned
  • May show¬† or regress to baby-like behaviors (bed-wetting, wanting security blanket, etc.)¬†
  • May act disobedient although they want the security of an adult being near
  • May give confusing, disorganized information because they have difficulty with transitioning

School-Age Children

  • May be old enough to understand they’re in pain, but too young to know how to control their reactions to this pain
  • May experience grief, embarrassment, resentment, rejection, divided loyalty and intense anger
  • Often hope their parents will get back together
  • May blame themselves
  • May feel the need to please both parents or have shifting loyalty conflicts between parents

Teenagers

  • May experience anger, fear, loneliness, depression and guilt
  • Often show increased risk-taking behaviors and non-compliance toward adults
  • May understand the causes leading to the separation and dwell on parental conflict. This may interfere with their ability to cope with changes in the family.
  • May feel pressured to “choose” one parent over the other or fault one parent for the divorce
  • May refuse to accept guidance or discipline from adults
  • Some may overcompensate with “perfect” behavior or may not want to talk about the situation

Ways Parents Can Help Their Children Adjust to Divorce

  • Limit the amount and intensity of conflict between you and the other parent
  • Try to agree on child rearing issues such as discipline, bedtime, routines, etc.
  • Be flexible in allowing children access to the other parent. For example, a good-night phone call for very young children
  • Let children know about changes in an age-appropriate way and be open to discussing their feelings
  • Both parents should express love for and approval of their children