When parents decide to end their marriage, the first year or two can be incredibly challenging for their children, who are likely to experience anger, anxiety and disbelief.
While it depends upon the child, many recover quickly from the shock and get comfortable with the new dynamics and routines. But many kids struggle to feel “normal” again.
Divorce can mean different things for kids of varying ages
Divorce is disruptive for everyone, but it can be terrifying and confusing for children. Kids typically react differently based on their age:
- Preschoolers: Younger kids generally aren’t sure why they are living in two homes. They worry that if their parents stopped loving each other, will they stop loving them?
- Grade-schoolers: Kids who are a little older often think they are responsible for their parents’ split due to misbehaving or doing something wrong.
- High-schoolers: Teenagers often get angry about divorce. They may blame one parent or resent both for the turmoil it has caused in their lives.
Each child reacts differently. Some may also be relieved when their parents separate because it means fewer arguments and less drama in their lives.
Divorce risks for children
The Pew Research Center says 40% of all new marriages in 2013 involved one spouse who had been married before, while in 20% of these unions, both spouses were divorced. In many cases, ongoing changes for kids can result in:
- Increased risks for mental health problems
- Behavioral issues
- Poor academic performance
- Increased risk-taking
Being pro-active helps kids adjust
The good news is that parents have the most control over how their kids will react to a divorce. The best strategies for parents include:
- Peaceful parenting: Even minor tension between mom and dad increases a child’s stress.
- Don’t put your kids in the middle: Asking a child to choose between their parents is inappropriate.
- Healthy communication: The more positive interactions parents have after a divorce, the greater the chance that their kids will adapt to new environments.
- Consistent discipline: Both parents should be on the same page when it comes to enforcing rules and following through with disciplinary actions.
- Instill confidence: Remind kids that while divorce is difficult, they are loved by both parents and have the ability to deal with the new situation.
Getting help with the process of divorce
Divorce can be extremely hard on children. But staying together for the sake of the kids is usually not the best option. Those who live in homes filled with arguments and hostility are more likely to suffer psychological problems.
If you find yourself asking whether it is better to go or to stay, it may be time for a divorce. A family law attorney can help you walk through the divorce process with your children’s mental health in mind. The decisions you make can make a difference.