Understanding the Effects of Divorce on Children
Understanding how your child may react and feel can help you better support them. Read on to find out what you can do to help your child.
5-8 years old (Kindergarten & Lower Primary School-Aged Children)
At this age, your child may blame themselves for the divorce. Your child may be able to express their feelings more easily, but it is still difficult for them to fully understand the reasons behind their parents’ divorce.
- Cries frequently due to a fear of being abandoned.
- Older children in this age group may show other behavioural issues such as decreased attention span in class which may also lead to poorer academic performance.
- Takes sides with you or the other parent and rejects the other.
- Behaves aggressively to stop conflict, get attention or distract you and the other parent.
- Psychologically & Socially:
- Believes that the parent who leaves the home no longer loves or wants them and suffers grief and lowered self-esteem.
- Your child may also feel shame when they see their friends having intact families or when both parents show up for their school events.
- Show your child physical affection and reassure them that you love them no matter what happens.
- Read a book about divorce with your child to help them understand it more, and assure them that their feelings and concerns are normal.
- Provide your child simple but accurate information about what is going on. For example, you may say: “Mummy/Daddy and I have thought and talked a lot about this, and we will not be living together anymore. This is not because of anything that you did. Mummy/Daddy and I have problems staying together but we still love you very much.”
- Work with your child's teachers and ask them to let you know if they notice changes in your child.
- If you and the other parent are living apart, be sure that both of you visit your child regularly and consistently.
- Keep your child out of any conflicts between you and the other parent, so that your child will not feel the need to take sides.
- Keep your promises. If you agree to pick up your child or meet somewhere at a scheduled time, stick to it.
- Over-compensating for the divorce by buying excessive gifts for your child. This can be misunderstood by your child and cause unintended effects. Do not shower your child with material gifts in an effort to compete with the other parent as well.
- Using your child to pass messages to your spouse. This involves your child unnecessarily in matters that may not concern them, and can add stress to them. Your child may also feel used.
- Using your child as a “spy” to get information about your spouse. Your child may feel torn having to decide whether to divulge details about the other parent. Being in this position may cause strains in the relationship between your child and the other parent, or your child and you as well.
- Bad-mouthing your spouse. This will make your child feel like you are criticising part of who they are. They may also feel a need to take sides between you and the other parent. Remind your family members who are close to your child to avoid bad-mouthing the other parent too.
- Taking your child’s difficult behaviour personally without first acknowledging or understanding that your child may be having a hard time as well.
3-4 years old (Pre-Nursery & Nursery)
9-12 years old (Upper Primary School-Aged Children)