The Emotional Impact of Divorce on Children
Going through a divorce is difficult enough for couples, but when children are involved, it adds another layer of complexity and concern. Knowing what to expect can help you support them better during this challenging transition. How they will be affected depends on many factors, including their personality, their level of maturity, what support they have, and the circumstances of your divorce.
Most children will need some help processing their feelings no matter what those feelings may be. Therapy can also help prevent them from internalizing a negative dialog about the divorce.
According to child psychologists, these are the ten common reactions kids may have when hearing their parents plan to divorce:
1. Anxiety, worry, and fear about what will happen
2. Anger at one or both parents
3. Sadness and grief over the family changing
4. Confusion about why this is happening
5. Guilt that they caused the divorce
6. Withdrawal and isolation from family and friends
7. School or behavioral problems
8. Changes in sleep, appetite, or regression in skills
9. Attachment and loyalty issues toward one parent
10. Relief that constant fighting will end
How to Support Your Children Through the Transition
Did any of those reactions surprise you? All of them are understandable. Many children experience a combination of these emotions. Accepting their feelings without judgment is key. Don’t criticize reactions like anger or try to convince them not to feel sad. And never put down their other parent, no matter how justified you feel.
Discuss the situation honestly but avoid oversharing details that may burden them. Assure your children this is not their fault and you both still love them and will take care of them. Understand what they’re feeling without judging their feelings or trying to blame their other parent. It can be tempting to share the reasons for the divorce with your children so that they will understand. Don’t do it. You and your divorcing spouse should decide together what and how much to tell the children.
Consider counseling to help your children process emotions and adjust to new family dynamics. Maintain routines and rules to provide stability. Spend one-on-one time reassuring each child they are still your priority. As the process of divorce moves forward, many stressful decisions will need to be made and with that, your children’s reactions will evolve. Do your best to support your children even if they try to shut you out. Take the opportunity to model healthy emotional processing, get appropriate help, and resolve problems as proactively as you can.
Leaning on loved ones like grandparents for extra support can also ease the transition. Over time and with compassion, children will gain coping skills and resilience from this challenge. Positive reassurance, emotional support, and understanding from the significant adults in their lives, such as grandparents, teachers, and caregivers are vital.
Get Legal Guidance to Protect Your Children
Divorce takes a toll on the entire family. Work with an attorney who understands and will go the extra mile for you and your children. One who understands your situation can ensure agreements protect your children’s best interests. And remember that you need support from the people in your life, too.