Unsplash / Jordan Whitt
Children of all ages are affected by divorce in some manner. It seems to be harder for some ages than others, though.
Divorce with kids
There really is no good age for children to experience divorce. It is often thought that divorcing when the child is still a baby will not affect that child. That is not the case. While babies and toddlers may have no understanding of what is going on, they can still feel that something is happening. Children over age three to around age seven or eight recognize that one parent is no longer around as much. This can be detrimental to their mental health as their entire worlds revolve around their parents at this time.
Though teenagers do understand what is going on, their reaction to a divorce is typically not too traumatic. This is because they are becoming more independent, and they are beginning to pull away from the family emotionally, anyway. Also, their thinking is maturing, so they can process the concept of divorce on a more logical scale.
Some kids can barely grasp the concept at all, though. Studies show that preteens are typically traumatized more by divorce than other ages, specifically ten and eleven-year-olds. During this time, children have come to understand their family as a unit. They are seeing how each family member plays a role, and that all family members rely on one another. Telling them that the unit is about to break apart is terrifying and confusing.
Additionally, preteens are at the beginning stages of discovering their identity, and many of them are not quite sure of themselves. In the midst of this, they are learning one parent will be moving out. There is a high chance this will cause feelings of abandonment. Though there is no way to block all of those feelings, there are a few ways to soften the blow.
Tips for making it a little easier
1. Is it necessary?
There is no reason to sugar coat it. Divorce is hard for everyone involved. Before going through with it, ask yourself one more time if it is necessary. Are you 100% sure that you cannot work it out? Consider this heavily before taking the next step.
2. Break it to them gently and as a team
Whether the two of you can get along or not, you should talk to your child together. How you break the news to them can set the stage for the entire divorce. Support one another and your child during this tough conversation.
The two of you should also be as confident as you can be. Do not hide your emotions, as your child needs to know you care. However, the calmer the two of you can be, the calmer your child will feel.
3. Be prepared to answer questions
Panic mode will set in as soon as you break the news. You are telling them that everything they know is about to be different, and it is only natural for them to want to understand those differences. They will likely ask you questions about who they will live with, whether you will both still come to their games, holiday-related questions, and more. Be patient enough to answer them all the best you can.
4. Be prepared for a wide array of emotions
Do not be surprised to see your child go from anger to crying then feeling guilty and ashamed. They are most likely very confused. Going through a whole spectrum of emotions should not be shocking to you. Try not to tell them in public, though, as you do not want them to feel embarrassed in addition to all of the other emotions.
5. Involve a counselor, if necessary
It may be necessary to bring outside help in for your child to better cope with the process. In fact, it may be beneficial for the whole family to see a counselor to make it as smooth a transition as it can be.
6. Give them space
Your child is going to need time to process emotions after you tell him about the divorce. Give them space to do that. Do not try to force them to talk to you, but be sure they know you are available if they need you. It may take them longer to process than you think is necessary. However, unless you feel that they are a danger to themselves, continue to give them space.
7. Make sure that they have some type of outlet
If they are already involved in sports, art, or another extracurricular activity, this step is taken care of. For those who are not, give your child some type of emotional outlet. This might mean letting them join a dance class or simply buying them art supplies. The key is to give them a way to express their emotions in a healthy way.
8. Keep their routines as similar as possible
Their world is being rocked by the divorce. Try to keep everything else as steady as possible. If Dad normally takes the kids to school, try to carry that on. If Mom is home every night for bedtime, try to keep that the same, as well. Navigating the road through a divorce can be tricky, but if both parties can work together, it will not be as bad.
9. Do not talk down about one another
It is imperative to remember that the two of you are getting divorced, not the child. It is not fair to make your child hear horrible things about the other person. And it is certainly not right to make them choose sides. Be as respectful to one another as you possibly can. There may be anger, but you should put it aside for the sake of your child.
10. Tell them that it is not their fault
It is common for children to feel as though the divorce is their fault. Suddenly, they remember all the times their parents argued over them and believe that is what is causing it all. They do not see what is beneath the surface. It is very important that you assure them and reassure them that it is not their fault.
Divorce is terrifying for many children. Though some reactions can be guessed, there is no absolute certainty of how divorce affects kids. It is important for the parents to be prepared to support their child through this time.