Navigating Divorce with Children


By Emily Bernhardt, LSW

Divorce impacts both parents and children within a family. Depending on a child’s age when divorce occurs, it can affect a child’s behavior in different ways. Learning the most common effects of divorce can guide parents through difficult interactions and can also help lessen the stress your child may be feeling.

While infants and toddlers may not fully understand what is happening when it comes to divorce, they can sense when there is tension between their parents. This can cause irritability and could cause your child to become clingy and insecure. This can also lead to regression that may look like a developmental delay.  

When it comes to the infant and toddler age range, it is best to provide as much consistency as possible so your child can feel familiarity and stability. Your child may also need extra attention and reassurance. If your child is a toddler, it is a good idea to explain the divorce to them using words they can easily understand.

Preschoolers and kindergarteners will often feel confused about their parents’ divorce and may even feel responsible. It is important to explain the divorce in simple, concrete ways, such as where the child will stay, how often they will see each parent, etc.  

Parents should be prepared for their child to ask plenty of questions and should also make sure to answer each question as best as they can. Anger, anxiety, sadness, or even uncertainty of how to feel are all very common ways for children at this age to express themselves in this situation.

Children between the ages of 7 and 11 will be able to grasp the concept of divorce better at this age. Older children will also have a better understanding of their own emotions, which will likely cause them to be more affected by their parents’ separation. It is common for children to feel a sense of abandonment, causing them to attempt to stop the separation from happening.  

As older children age, it can be common for them to place blame on one parent or take sides. Therefore, it is important to make sure the parents are engaging in clear communication and avoiding placing blame on one another.

Preteens and teenagers are more likely than younger children to place blame on someone. They may place blame on one or both parents, or they may even blame themselves. Teens and preteens may also begin to question the authority of the parents, especially the parent they do not live with on a regular basis. Anxiety, anger, sadness, and even acting out are common responses to divorce. It is best to have open communication with your child and to try and connect with them even more than before.

It is so important to be aware of the common effects divorce can have on children, so you can do your best to lessen the stress your child is feeling. Be aware, communicate with your child regularly, and give them the space to express how they are feeling. Creating positive interactions with your child through this change can make all the difference.