Divorce may be on the decline, but there are still 40% to 50% of all married couples who end up getting divorced in the US alone. This can be a pivotal experience for children, who suddenly have to accept a new reality involving two homes. This can be lived as a traumatic moment and can change the entire trajectory of their lives. From a child's perspective, it can represent a loss of stability and a loss of security. Even more importantly, some children feel the loss of love and trust. When it comes as a shock, it can create a range of negative emotional responses, including everything from anger and frustration to anxiety and sadness. It can also impact children physically, psychologically, and academically.
Living through a divorce is stressful, which can take a physical toll, and kids of divorced parents can experience more health-related issues than others, including asthma, headaches, and speech impediments. Divorce is also very emotionally distracting for children, which can make it difficult for them to focus at school and concentrate on homework. This is especially true if there is still turmoil or instability in the home.
Parents really need to be aware of these consequences and take steps to help their kids cope with the situation and heal as fast as possible. One of the biggest struggles that every divorcing parent faces is apprehending that dreaded moment when they have to tell their children that the life they knew has come to an end and that they are going to step into a new beginning they didn't ask for. This is where good communication is key. Accepting the fact that your family is separating is tough at any age, so it is important to ease the blow as much as possible. To do so, parents should adjust their tone and their words according to the age of their children and their ability to grasp what is happening. We have detailed below some of the best ways to help kids handle divorce based on their age, and a few divorce tips for parents.
0-5 Years Old
From ages 0 to 5, babies and toddlers are completely dependent on their parents, and they have no ability to comprehend complex matters. They also lack the ability to see into the future, and the border between reality and fantasy is blurry for them.
In order to make the transition easier for kids in this age group, you have to try and maintain their routine as much as possible – breakfast, playtime, bedtime, etc. They need to feel stable and not like the rug is getting pulled from under them, so it is also important to speak to them in a way they'll understand. When telling 0-5-year-old kids about divorce and what will happen next, keep your sentences short and as concise as possible. In addition, try to make sure your toddlers understand that you and your partner made a decision that has nothing to do with them and make it clear that even if mommy and daddy are separating, you all are still a family.
6-11 Years Old
Kids ages 6-11 are better at expressing themselves than younger kids, and they also have the ability to understand the feelings of others. At this point kids also have relationships outside their home, but that doesn't go to say they'll take the news easily. At 6-11 kids see the world in black and white and they may feel guilty or assign the blame for the divorce on themselves or their parents. Like with younger kids, tell your 6-11-year-old kids that your decision had nothing to do with them and that you will remain a close family. If they show signs of distress, they may find it difficult to talk about their feelings directly, so speak in broad terms, like "divorce can be hard for kids and they might feel sad about it" so they feel more comfortable opening up to you.
12-14 Years Old
Kids ages 12-14 can understand complex issues, and even be a part of the decision-making process as a family. When going through a divorce, remember that teenagers already have changes in their lives, so tread lightly. Keep them involved in big decisions having to do with them so they feel like they have a voice and that it matters. If your kids push you away when you try do to it, don't give up easily. Many kids have said that they were testing their parents to see how much they really cared about what they felt and had to say, so even if it's hard – talk to your teens and let them express their opinions.
Being a child in the middle of a divorce is difficult at any age, but you, the parents, can make things easier. In order to keep your family together, be aware of any behavioral changes your children are going through, take into account their age and treat them accordingly. It may be hard, but you can get through the divorce in one piece, even when one of you moves out of the family home.