Parental divorce affects children differently at different ages

When couples with children decide that they need to get a divorce, one of the biggest and most common worries they may have is how the divorce will impact their kids. And no matter what the child’s age, divorce will impact him or her in some way.

As we have discussed in previous posts, staying together “for the kids” is a noble idea, but one that may end up doing more harm than good. This is, in part, because growing up in a home with constant tension and arguing is unhealthy. Therefore, when divorce is necessary, parents may wish to focus on understanding how divorce affects children of different ages and tailoring support strategies to each child.

According to family and child development expert Dr. Gail Gross, toddlers will interpret and react to parental divorce differently than school-age children. Toddlers are defined as children between 1 and 3 years old, and school-age children are between age 6 and age 12.

Because toddlers have only limited cognitive ability, Dr. Gross writes, they cannot understand what divorce is. They also lack coping skills that would help them deal with the adjustments and changes caused by the divorce. Even at that very young age, however, a toddler may feel like his parents’ divorce is his fault.

As kids get a little older, they can understand what divorce is and what it entails. But this is not to say that understanding will come with acceptance. Dr. Gross mentions that during this phase when “magical thinking” occurs, kids may feel responsible for both the divorce and for the possibility of getting their parents back together.

If school-age children feel a loss of control because of the divorce, they may begin to act out – especially at school. Behavioral problems and regressive behaviors are not uncommon. This is also the age range during which kids may be likely to choose sides and blame one parent or the other.

There is no easy or quick solution to help your kids deal with divorce (or to help yourself, for that matter). But by understanding the impacts of divorce at different ages, you can provide tailored support for your children and seek out mental health resources (such as a counselor) on their behalf.

Source: The Huffington Post, “The Impact of Divorce on Children of Different Ages,” Dr. Gail Gross, March 12, 2015

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