Many divorcing parents are concerned about how their divorce may affect their children. Some parents are so worried about their kids that they decide to postpone their divorce, even if their situation makes them unhappy.
Every family’s situation is different, and the decision to divorce or not must be made on a case by case basis. However, parents who are weighing their options may benefit from learning how the experience could affect their kids.
Each child may react differently
There are many factors that can affect how a child reacts to divorce. A child’s personality and life experiences can play a role and so can a child’s age and developmental stage. As a result, a baby will react completely differently than a 5-year old or an 11-year-old.
In general, young children have trouble understanding the concept of divorce and may not have the language skills to discuss their feelings. Disruptions to their usual routine can also be difficult for them. These and other challenges can cause young children to regress with their behaviors. For example, a baby may be especially fussy or clingy. A toddler may go back to thumb sucking or resist toilet training.
School-age children may have some ability to understand divorce, but there is often the potential for confusion. For example, some children may mistakenly believe that a parent is divorcing them. Other children may believe they can save their parents’ marriage or may assign blame to one parent for the divorce. Although older children are better able to express their feelings, that does not necessarily mean they will do so in a healthy way. Sometimes, a child will become withdrawn, while another child may lash out.
Parents may be able to anticipate a child’s reaction by learning more about what is common among children in that age group. Parents can also try to talk to their kids about divorce using age-appropriate language, help their children express themselves in a healthy way and remind their children that the divorce is not their fault.
Parental conflict can make it harder for kids to cope
Although there are actions parents can take to help their kids cope, there are also parental actions that could make the whole experience more difficult for their kids. For example, frequent parental conflict can be harmful to children.
Most parents fight now and then, and some parental conflict may not be particularly harmful to children. The type of conflict that can be harmful, includes:
- Hostile arguments
- Insulting each other
- The silent treatment
- Conflict about the child
Frequent parental conflict can be distressing to children and may cause them to feel afraid, angry, sad or anxious. They could also develop health problems, poor social skills and poor problem-solving abilities.
Sometimes these negative effects are caused by witnessing parents arguing in person or on the phone. Having these heated conversations at a time and place where children will not overhear can help to reduce the effect it may have on your children. However, sometimes this is not enough.
Sometimes, parents become so distracted by their conflict with each other that they are unable to be the best parents they can be. With this in mind, it can be valuable for parents to reduce the amount of conflict in their co-parenting relationship, even if the conflicts occur away from their children.
The good news is that although divorce tends to have some negative effects on children right away, most children recover well over time. Most of the negative effects of divorce do not affect a child more than two years.
It can sometimes be difficult for parents to pursue divorce when they know it will hurt their children, even if it will only hurt for a short time. However, kids may me more resilient than adults realize, especially when their parents can take steps to help them cope with the changes their family is experiencing.