An Age-Based Guide to the Effects of Divorce on Children

A representation of divorce with wedding bands and a court hammer

It’s an unfortunate but unavoidable fact that marriage sometimes simply doesn’t work out. Two people can decide that it’s more beneficial to their happiness if they’re to part ways. It becomes a more complex topic if children are involved. In most cases, when learning that their parents are considering a divorce, children tend to feel sad and anxious. How will kids respond to the new family structure and is there a way to ease their transition? This simple guide might help.

The Effects of Divorce on Babies and Toddlers

Upset couple sitting with baby girl

Although they might not understand the words or have a way to express their thoughts, babies and infants can feel the tension between their parents and in their homes. When it comes to toddlers, their main bond is with their parents, and disruptions that a divorce can cause might be difficult for them to accept. Babies and toddlers might react to this shift by displaying more frequent emotional outbursts like crying and tantrums, having trouble going to sleep, irritability, and clinginess.

How Preschoolers Might React

parents arguing behind a young boy

When children are 3 to 6 years old, they won’t necessarily understand the concept and reasoning behind divorce but they likely won’t want their parents to separate, even if the situation at home is tense. They might feel like they have no control over the situation or the outcome, which can be quite difficult to deal with. It’s not uncommon for kids that age to think that they’re the cause of the problem. They might experience feelings of anger and uncertainty about the future.

Children 6 to 11 years old

young sad girl

Kids 5 to 8 years old are still unlikely to truly understand the concept of their family structure shifting. They might feel like they’re the ones losing a parent, maintain hope that their parents will reconcile, or even believe that they can help rescue the marriage. However, it’s not uncommon for kids ages 8 to 11 to blame one parent for the situation, choose sides, or express their anger by acting up at school or becoming withdrawn.

Easing the Transition

a happy family of 4

The truth is that divorce is something children of all ages will struggle with, but there are ways for parents to ease the transition for them. Make sure that babies and toddlers still have daily routines they can count on, extra attention, and plenty of quality time with parents.

In front of preschoolers, handle the separation in a positive and open manner, making sure their feelings are validated and ensuring regular visitation with both parents. With elementary-school kids, reassure them that neither parent is abandoning them and that the situation isn’t their fault. Spend quality time with them, encourage their interests, and uplift their self-esteem.