When parents decide to end their marriage, both often worry about the effect their divorce will have on their children. After all, divorce is a significant adjustment for any child of any age. For many children, divorce represents the first time they must face 'the real world.' In most instances, a child faces the adjustment of moving between two homes or the daily absence of at least one of their parents. Divorce is frequently a child’s first major experience with change, and understanding how they feel will help parents make the process easier for them.
While every child handles divorce differently, insights from experts can help parents understand what approach might be best to help their child.
Divorce’s Impact on Various Ages
According to psychologist Carl E. Pickhardt, how a child interprets and reacts to divorce will vary depending on if they are in childhood or adolescence. Though his observations are not based on certainties, Dr. Pickhardt offers advice based on the most common patterns he sees in his profession.
According to Dr. Pickhardt, childhood lasts until the ages of 8 or 9. When a person still in childhood experiences a divorce, they tend to increase their dependence on at least one of their parents. A child may increase their dependence on a parent in an attempt to compensate for a lack of confidence and security.
Since most of a child’s social life revolves around their family, having separated parents is as if they’ve lost their closest friend. In some instances, it is difficult to communicate the permanency of divorce to a child who wants to fantasize that their parents will reunite in marriage once again someday. Thus, a child may have trouble processing the divorce, and it could manifest as anxious behavior.
In some instances, grade-school age children might blame themselves for a divorce. Because many children associate sadness to moments they’ve misbehaved, they may falsely believe themselves responsible for causing the divorce. So, a child may need to be reminded that the divorce is not related in any way to their behavior.
As children grow into adolescence (between the ages of 8 and 13), they begin to utilize a more independent style of thinking. So, adolescents often feel anger and may react to divorce with retaliation. Outward actions of rebellion, anger, and independent behavior are not uncommon in adolescents experiencing divorce.
How to Help a Child After Divorce
Dr. Pickhardt emphasizes three practices which help children and adolescents deal with divorce: routines, rituals, and reassurance. Some counselors refer to these three practices as the three R’s. They help reestablish a child's sense of trust, order, and predictability. Routines help a child know what to expect, rituals help them feel in control of their life, and reassurance helps the child feel like their parents are committed to making this new lifestyle work.
For those still in childhood, the three R’s help them process the separation of their parents by keeping their routine as “normal” as possible. Children who are distraught by the changing of the routine will find comfort in the formation of new stability and will learn that new routines are possible to form when everything in their life changes.
For adolescents, the three R’s might help them avoid feelings of anger and resentment. Because the three R’s help an adolescent feel loved, they might help ease the feeling of abandonment. While adolescents need to feel like they are more independent, they still need reassurance and care.
Our Massachusetts divorce attorneys understand how damaging divorces can be for children. That's why our cost-effective, results-oriented approach to family law is the preferred method for thousands of families: it allows families to strengthen their relationships and minimize the trauma of divorce.