Do Children Adapt to Divorce?
Divorce can be hard on your children. However, just because they can be affected by your divorce, that doesn’t mean they won’t eventually adjust. According to child psychological research, children can adapt to their parent’s divorce within two years of the divorce (on average).
How swiftly and well your children adapt to your divorce is dependent on a variety of factors. Below, we will discuss the factors that can affect how well your child adjusts as well as tips on how to help them adjust.
Minimal Parental Conflict
Reportedly, children of divorce are less affected by their parent’s relationship (or lack thereof) than children with parents in high-conflict marriages. That is because parental conflict can affect a child’s mental health as well as their behavioral, social, and academic life. If your child is put in the middle of fights or witnesses a lot of fights and contention between you and your ex, they may struggle to adapt to the divorce.
While some conflicts can be healthy, you should be mindful of the level of conflict they are exposed to at any time. Children can feel hurt or attacked by their parent’s fights and can also feel alone or isolated. Parents should avoid badmouthing one another, placing the child in the middle of fights (i.e. asking their opinion on what you’re disagreeing about), and fighting in front of their children. You should also be mindful of what your friends and family members say about the other parent with your child present as well.
The Child’s Age
There are multiple stages of child development: early childhood (birth to age five), middle childhood (age six to twelve), and adolescence (age 13 to 18). Depending on your child’s age and their developmental stage, how they respond and adapt to your divorce will vary. You can review our previous blog, “What Are the Effects of Divorce on Children?” for more details on how divorce can affect children based on their age.
Here are some age-based tips for parents to help ease the transition after divorce for their child:
- Parents can help children from birth to 18 months old by maintaining their routine. Children this age benefit from and are comforted by familiarity so consistency is important. During and after your divorce, you should try to set and maintain a schedule for their sleep and mealtimes; you should also identify their favorite toys or items as these can act as a security and comfort to them.
- Parents can help children 18 months to three years old by prioritizing routines as well. Toddlers also enjoy and benefit from a level of predictability. While divorce can lead to changes in the lives of children and their parents, you should try to develop and maintain a normal and routine schedule for your toddler. If possible, both parents should also spend quality time with toddlers as they can benefit from relational reassurance.
- Parents can help children three to six years old by modeling healthy behaviors and attitudes. Children this age may experience and struggle with a lot of emotions because of the uncertainty and fear they may feel because of the divorce; they may also act out. By modeling positive and healthy behavior or reading books that discuss how to express your feelings, parents can help these children with the transition to life post-divorce.
- Parents can help children six to 11 years old by prioritizing quality time and activities that help rebuild or reassure their child’s self-esteem and security. Children this age may struggle with placing blame on themselves or either parent for the divorce, which can lead to acting out, withdrawing, or other negative actions. Parents should not only encourage their children to be honest about what they feel but should also take to reassure their children that the divorce isn’t their fault. Parents can also encourage children this age to enjoy extracurriculars or time with friends so that they have extra support and spaces where they can rebuild their self-esteem and foster healthy relationships.
- Parents can help adolescent-aged children by reminding them you’re there for them to talk or hang out or for anything. Teens can express their emotions more than younger children; however, they may still struggle with how to process or express them. Parents should be careful to avoid asking or having their teen act as a confidant throughout and after the divorce because the teen may feel like there isn’t space for their emotions. Instead, parents should listen to and encourage their teens to share their emotions and lean on their parents when needed.
The Child’s Ability to Cope with Change & Stress
Divorce can affect many aspects of a child’s life; the changes to your family, routine, and life may be stressful and emotional. Parents should ensure their children have healthy methods to help them process, cope with, and express their feelings. Whether you model coping methods or have a discussion with them concerning how to handle stress and change, they will need your support, especially if they are younger, to handle their emotions.
The Child’s Continued Relationship with Both Parents
An important part of child custody determinations is the best interest of the child. To determine the best interest of the child, the court will consider a host of factors, including each parent’s willingness and ability to allow the child to have a continued and meaningful relationship and contact with the other parent. If a child does not have a continued relationship with a parent or has less contact with a parent after a divorce, they can struggle to adjust because of feelings of abandonment, resentment, anger, and/or sadness.
It is important to note that we recognize some parental relationships must be severed if a continued relationship is a danger to a child. Parents also cannot control whether the other party always shows up to visitation or child custody drop-offs and cannot force the other parent to have a continued relationship. However, they should do their best to show up for their child and make them feel safe, loved, and secure in their relationship.
The Child’s Personality/Disposition
Your child’s personality can affect how they adapt to your divorce because their personality affects how they respond to situations and change. Parents with multiple children may notice that siblings (i.e. children in the same family) react and adjust to the divorce differently.
Parents should again teach their children different coping mechanisms, and they should monitor their child’s behavior. If you notice six months have passed and your child’s behavior has drastically changed, you should also consider counseling and/or some other form of professional help (i.e. support groups, behavioral coaching, etc.).
The Child’s Support System
Your child will need your support adapting to life post-divorce. However, they will also need support from others, such as their teachers, family, coaches, and friends, Your child can benefit from having other people not only monitor their behavior and response to the divorce but also be a listening ear.
Parents should ask people in their child’s life to watch their child and be a support. For instance, letting your child’s teacher know about the divorce and your worries about your child’s response can influence the teacher to provide extra support or flag unusual behavior. You should also reassure your child that you will always be there for them because they may worry about how the divorce will affect your relationship with them.
The Details of the Divorce
While Missouri is a no-fault state, the reason you are getting divorced may be because of the actions of either party. Whatever the reason is for your divorce, your child may struggle to adapt to your divorce depending on the information they receive concerning your divorce. Too much information can impact their relationship with either parent as well as their adjustment; however, too little information can also impact their emotional health and adaption.
Parents should consider their child’s age and developmental stage and be careful with what information they share with their child regarding their divorce and its causation. You should also prioritize reminding them that divorce isn’t their fault and that you love them no matter what happens.
The Parental Response to the Divorce
A child’s adjustment to their parent’s divorce is often impacted by their parent’s response. Children often look to their parents as an example of how to react and respond to situations. Thus, if you are struggling to adapt or cope, they might as well.
Parents should be mindful of the behaviors they model to their children. Show your child healthy ways to cope and process as well as be honest and communicative about your emotions and adjustment process post-divorce. Your behavior can encourage and inform theirs.
At Kallen Law Firm, we are committed to helping clients smoothly navigate the divorce process. If you have children, we are also equipped and here to help with protecting their best interests as well as yours.
To schedule a case consultation, all (314) 441-7793 or reach out online today.