We all know and understand that each child is different and how he or she handles divorce will be unique to them. Yet we are also probably aware that the reaction that they have will also depend on their age or developmental stage.
So how a 5 year old takes the news and deals with the experience will be different to that of a 10 year old as it would be for the 15 year old sibling.
Some children are so young when their parents divorce that they don’t ever remember them being together. Others are old enough to always remember what took place, what they were doing when they found out about it and how it affected them.
Depending on the situation and circumstances, for some children it is nothing more than knowing that their dad won’t be living in the same house with them while for others it maybe a complete change of life from the way they have always known it.
Very young children, even those that aren’t old enough to talk yet can understand the emotions of people. They can often identify issues such as stress, tension, and they definitely know when their parents are upset. They can also miss the non-resident parent once he/she moves out.
If you have a young child and are currently going through divorce, just observe any changes in their behaviours including increased clinginess, tearfulness, increased temper tantrums or change in feeding.
Children from about three years of age to around five will be able to verbalise some questions about the divorce. They will often notice that the other person isn’t around like they used to be. They may pose questions such as why the other parent doesn’t go to the park with them or whey they live someplace else.
It is important that their questions are answered without giving them too many unnecessary adult only details. Just answer their questions as best as you can keeping in mind that they need to continue feeling secure and loved.
Children aged between six to about eleven will most probably already know someone who has divorced parents and understand what divorce means and entails.
However, that doesn’t mean they are going to readily accept it and as with the little ones, be ready for some changes in behaviour, including anger and aggressiveness as they may simply become overwhelmed by their emotions.
They may lack the skills to effectively be able to handle what is taking place. Do your best to get them to talk about it even if they aren’t sure what they are feeling or why. They may also hold the belief that they are in some way to blame for the divorce and may work at brining the parents together.
Older children, from twelve and up often understand more about divorce than any other age group and may attempt to find more detailed answers as to what is taking place or what happened.
Chances are that this older age group was well aware of some issues in the marriage before the announcement of the divorce entered the picture and will take sides which can be extremely difficult for the parents. It is important to remember that this is part of who they are, their stage of development, so don’t take it personally if they side with your ex-spouse.
They are just doing what children of this age do.
It is very common for children in this age group to be also want to be a caregiver for the parent they “favour”. Do your best to get your child to see both parents as equals and not use them as sounding boards. If you can offer a united front as far as the divorce and caring for the children though it will be easier for them to do so.
Children don’t need to be your confidante when it comes to the divorce. Turn to another adult for someone to listen or to a professional counsellor.
Divorce and separation bring on huge changes for all involved and parents and we, as the adults around the children, will need to get a handle on our own emotions if we are going to meet our children’s needs as effectively as possible.
As I often say, it’s not the divorce that matters the most but the way it’s handled. This experience will be one of the many difficult experiences that your child will experience during his/her lifetime so let’s work hard to make it as painless as possible and help them deal with divorce the best way possible.
All the best.
Soila is the founder of The Divorce Magazine and creator of the online course – Parenting after Separation
She is known for taking away the pain of trauma and loss in children, adolescents and their families.
Soila holds an MSc in Psychoanalytic Developmental Psychology from UCL (University College London), is an accredited Positive Parenting Program (Triple P) practitioner and a trained Family Mediator.
Soila is Graduate Member of the British Psychological Society.
You can contact her on 07850 85 60 66 or via email firstname.lastname@example.org