If you’re like many parents considering divorce, your main concern is your kids’ well-being. You want to make sure they come out of this okay – and the good news is that most kids adjust well over time.
How Divorce Affects Children: What You Need to Know
In the short-term, divorce affects the majority of kids. Most experience things like anxiety, anger, shock and disbelief – but these reactions usually diminish or completely disappear by the second year.
Most kids also do well in the long-term.
It’s not the divorce that’s affecting kids negatively. In fact, repeated studies have shown that high levels of parental conflict is what really causes kids to adjust poorly over time. Many children whose parents fight a lot – or who create a tense, unhappy environment – are relieved when they find out about the impending divorce.
The first year is usually the hardest.
But with all that said, every child reacts to divorce differently. According to psychologist Dr. Carl E. Pickhardt, author of 15 parenting books, some of that has to do with normal developmental milestones.
“The child's world is a dependent one, closely connected to parents who are favored companions, heavily reliant on parental care, with family the major locus of one's social life,” says Pickhardt. “The adolescent world is a more independent one, more separated and distant from parents, more self-sufficient, where friends have become favored companions, and where the major locus of one's social life now extends outside of family into a larger world of life experience.”
When kids are young, it’s harder for them to remain confident in how dependable each parent is. And often, that results in wishful thinking – that mom and dad will get back together again someday.
As teens cope with divorce, they often try to take more control over their own lives. Sometimes that involves behaving more defiantly.
“He feels increasingly autonomous in a family situation that feels disconnected. He now feels more impelled and entitled to act on his own,” says Pickhardt.
Young kids may have a tough time understanding why their lives are split into two compartments: one with mom, and one with dad. They might also worry that their parents’ love for them isn’t permanent.
Grade-school kids might feel like the divorce is their fault.
Teenagers can become angry about the big changes, and they might blame one parent more than the other.
So what can you do to help your kids cope with divorce?
How Divorce Affects Children – And How You Can Help
One of the best things you can do for your children during and after divorce is establish a sense of predictability. Pickhardt says you can do so by “observing the three R's required to restore a child's trust in security, familiarity, and dependency - Routines, Rituals, and Reassurance.” Routines show kids what to expect and give kids room to create rituals so they feel more in control. Reassurance – well, we all need reassurance from time to time. It’s important that you show your child you’re still connected and that no matter what, a parent’s love for a child never changes.
Use these tips to help your children cope with divorce:
Keep them away from visible conflict. Don’t have “heated” discussions in front of them, and don’t talk about the legal aspects of your case in front of them.
Try to minimize disruptions to their daily routines.
Don’t say bad things about your ex to – or in front of – your children.
Make sure that both of you remain involved in your kids’ lives.
It’s your job as a parent to let your children know that you recognize and care about their feelings. You can help them cope with those feelings by letting them know that it’s okay to be upset and by answering their questions as honestly as you can. (Don’t go into the grisly details, but do tell the truth when you can do so without putting blame on their other parent.)
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