Common Changes in Child Behavior Following a Divorce

Children whose parents have divorced often exhibit both mental and physical changes, but these occurrences are not uncommon and can be part of the healing process post-divorce.

A divorce is challenging for all parties involved, but it can take a harder toll on children who have difficulty comprehending the process.  Children may cope with these feelings in different ways, so it’s important to provide love and support during this time to ensure children don’t express themselves in dangerous ways.

Common reactions

All children react differently to a divorce, but there are certain characteristics that coincide with the age of a child during a divorce.  Below is a list of common reactions based on a child’s age.

  • Birth-18 months:Increased nervousness or reluctance.  Increased need for attention and feeling of security.
  • 18 months-3 years:  An increase in mood swings.  A desire for routine and consistency.  May wet the bed more often and throw more tantrums.
  • 3 years-5 years:  May exhibit a stronger reaction to being left alone or being separated from one parent.  Common when the child is dropped off at a care center or preschool.  Increased dependency and need for comfort.
  • 5 years-11 years: May choose sides and lash out at one parent.  Increased emotional feelings as they begin to comprehend feelings of sadness, guilt, anger and loss.  May have difficulty sharing or expressing their emotions in an uncontrolled environment.
  •  11 years-14 years: May begin to act out more often.  More likely to cave into peer pressure as they seek approval from their friends.  Children’s opinions should be considered when planning trips or visitation schedules.
  • 14- years-18 years: An increase in the desire for structure.  Difficulty or reluctance to express emotions to parents.  Anger over the change of normal structure.

Learning how a divorce may affect your child is an important step making the process as easy as possible for your child.  Parents are understandably going through a wide range of emotions during this time as well, but they are usually better equipped to handle these feelings than their children.

Steps to take

Because everyone reacts differently to a divorce, there are a variety of ways to help manage the stress a divorce can cause.  Some techniques for parents and children are listed below.

  • Communicate with each other:  Because children can have a difficulty understanding the reasons behind a divorce, they need to be able to talk with their parents about their feelings.  Communication between both parties can help alleviate stress and prevent anger from building up.
  • Get involved in extracurricular activities: Physical activity and team sports can help take a person’s mind off the emotions of a divorce, and new friendships can lead to a happier lifestyle.  Encourage your child to get involved in some after school or summer activities.
  • Seek professional guidance:  Although a child may be reluctant to share their feelings with a therapist or guidance counselor, it’s important to consider this option as it provides a safe place for a child to share their emotions without feeling like they may upset one parent.  Counselors can also help explain feelings that parents may have a difficult time explaining.

High-conflict divorces can result in kids being put in the middle of their parent’s disputes whether or not the parent intends for that to happen.  Comments such as “you are just like your father” or “your mother is late again” can really take their toll on a child emotionally.

Divorce attorneys are not traditionally skilled as therapists or counselors so it’s important that a parent seek the advice of a professional about how to handle anger, hurt, and depression.  It’s important for parents to remember that the child is not a prize to be won.  It’s also a good idea for the child or children to have a trusted counselor to assist them in processing their feelings through the divorce.

Related source:  Huffington Post

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