The Psychological Effects of Divorce on Children: The Impact and Support

Written by Daisy
Last updated:
Reviewed by Margaret

The psychological effects of divorce on children have always been overlooked and people always say they won’t remember it. But no, they’re wrong.

Some of the adverse effects that divorce has on children include poor academic performance, difficulty in adapting, relationship issues, changes in habits, and even loss of social activity. There’s more and it should never be overlooked.

In this article, we will be discussing the different short and long-term psychological effects of divorce on children, a guide on coping, and other questions related to it, too!

Disclaimer 

Please note, this article is intended to provide general information on pregnancy and diet, and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. The article has been reviewed by medical expert Margaret Dogwood, BSN, RN.

Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or dietary modifications during pregnancy.

What Are The Psychological And Emotional Effects Of Divorce On Children?

Divorce is something that’s painful not only for the people involved, but also for the children. Whether or not your child is aware of what’s happening, it can take a toll on their overall lives and development.

For us to tackle this better and more sensibly, let’s try and categorize them in such a way that parents will understand.

Babies and Younger Children (Before School-Age)

Divorce can have a variety of consequences for children. Younger children may experience separation anxiety, fear of abandonment, and bewilderment when their family structure changes.

As they try to cope with their feelings, infants may display regressive behaviors such as bedwetting or increased clinginess.

World Psychiatry Journal took this with seriousness. As per cumulative findings, a child’s risk in certain life difficulties is increased.

             As per studies, parental separation heightens the likelihood of both child and adolescent adjustment problems. This can include academic challenges like poorer grades and dropping out of school; disruptive behaviors like misconduct and drug use problems; and depression.”

School-Aged Children

Moving forward, children who are in the right minds to understand what’s happening can also be affected unfavorably. Children in this age range may experience despair, rage, and a sense of loss.

In fact, they may feel guilty if they blame themselves for their parents’ divorce even though they really don’t have anything to do with it.

Carissa Stephens, R.N., CCRN, CPN medically reviewed on Healthline some of the effects of separation and the child being aware of it. Healthline says that anger is common in this age, but it can be boosted by the emotion that they’re receiving.

Anger may erupt at any age, but it is most prevalent among school-aged children and teenagers. These emotions might result from feelings of desertion or lack of control. Some children may even be angry at themselves for their parents’ divorce.”

Adolescents

And lastly would be adolescents – those who are entirely aware of what’s happening. I mean, I’ve seen and witnessed cases like this and I can say that they are good in hiding that “they don’t care.” In reality, they’re severely affected by it.

Teenagers frequently go through tremendous emotional turbulence after divorce, dealing with a variety of feelings such as anger, animosity, and sadness. They may also exhibit behavioral issues, academic challenges, and engage in dangerous actions to cope.

Here’s a video that briefly outlines the possible effects of divorce on children.

Are There Mental and Psychological Effects of Divorce on Children?

Our body is like a highway – everything in it is almost interconnected and linked, one way or another. Whatever we think of manifests physically; it’s the same thing with divorce – it can trigger a mental response to think of things, and at the same time, a psychological one, too.

Poor Academic Performance

One of the things that can take a toll would be their interest and engagement in academics. It’s common knowledge that the academic achievement of children of divorced parents may suffer. It can manifest in many ways like them not going to school, poor performance, bad relationships with people, etc.

This is due to emotional upheaval and changes in their life, which might impair their ability to concentrate and focus on their schoolwork.

Loss of Interest in Social Activity

Parents might not see it, but this action may actually lead to the child losing interest in engaging with others. Divorce might cause children to lose interest in social activities.

What could happen is that they may retreat from social contacts because of embarrassment, humiliation, or a sense of being different from their peers.

Brian M. D’Onofrio, Ph.D., says that this feeling can cause a magnitude of pain in them that it can have negative effects on their social lives.

             Recognizing the degree of these issues, as well as the causative mechanisms through which divorce effects these conducts, has major social impacts.”

Difficulty Adapting to Change

It may seem unrelated, but it is. As with many of the effects, it wouldn’t have a direct, concrete line of understanding. Divorce causes major changes in a child’s life. This may or (may not) include relocation or changes in family routines.

Furthermore, these disturbances can make it complex for children to adjust and cope with new situations.  This is what leads them to heightened anxiety and stress, overall.

Emotionally Sensitive

Children of divorce may exhibit increased emotional sensitivity. Because of the disruption in their family life, they may be more prone to acute melancholy, worry, or dread. The effect, however, will depend on the age range of the child.

Mediate said that kids experience the most discomfort while teenagers’ reactions would mostly be anger and resentment.

Children are the ones that suffer the most as a result of their parents’ divorce. Children in middle school frequently assume that their parents’ divorce is their fault. Teenagers typically comprehend what is going on, and their most common reaction is rage. The divorce is interfering with their everyday lives, which fuels their wrath.”

Anger/Irritability

This unwanted separation can also cause children to become irritable and angry. They may target their rage onto their parents or other family members, resulting in squabbles and strained relationships.

Not just that, but their peers as well. They may find it difficult to build relationships because of it.

Feelings of Guilt

Even though they are not to blame for their parents’ divorce, children frequently feel bad about it. Guilt has this detrimental influence on children’s self-esteem and general psychological well-being. And it’s not something that just lingers around – they may take it further and have this feeling until they grow older.

Relationship & Attachment Issues

Following anger and irritability, separation can take a huge toll on a child’s way of building relationships. Due to what they’ve experienced, they may find it extremely difficult to cope and to attach themselves to others.

Divorce can have an impact on a child’s capacity to build and maintain healthy connections. They may suffer with trust issues, abandonment anxiety – overall, difficulties building their own relationships.

Changes in Eating and Sleeping Habits

And last but most definitely not least would be the changes and the hardships they’ll encounter for themselves – eating and sleeping.

Divorce-related distress might interfere with a child’s feeding and sleeping habits. They can experience changes regarding their appetite, such as lack of appetite or emotional eating, as well as difficulties falling asleep or restlessness.

These are all the different changes and adjustments that children go through with divorce. It’s not as easy as you think. So, if you are a parent, you’ll want to be there for your child in order for them to work and get past it.

What Are the Effects of Divorce on a 3-Year-Old Child?

Why a 3-year-old child? Well, the third year of a baby’s development is when most of the things developing become crucial. They really won’t know what’s happening, but not seeing familiar faces will be one of the biggest obstacles for them.

Here’s a quick video from St. Louis Children’s Hospital that tackles the management of the effects of divorce on kiddos.

In case you didn’t know about it, babies can actually exhibit emotional trauma. They deal with it in quite a few ways, including, but not limited to:

  • Bed Wetting
  • Speech Delays and Problems
  • Thumb-Sucking
  • Withdrawal
  • Sleeping Problems
  • More Crying or Wailing Than the Usual
  • And Others More

We did a couple of interviews with peers about this who we knew weren’t sensitive about it. We approached Lisa, our graphics designer, who claimed to have experienced her parent’s divorce when she was three years old. According to her, she has gone through the toughest of times – she would not eat, she would rarely sleep, and she wouldn’t talk in class. 

Luckily, her stepdad came in and helped her cope with the situation – he was also the reason why she didn’t feel any type of resentment from her father. 

Another would be Marko, our virtual assistant, a 32-year-old male, now living with his family. He said that he was also three (3 and a half, to be exact) when his parents decided to divorce. He said that since then, he never spoke to his father again – he would show up at least once a year, some he even missed. 

Unfortunately, his biological father passed away when he was 17 years old. He grieved for a moment, but then realized how he did not help him cope. Thanks to his grandparents, he was able to cope with it pretty smoothly. 

Can You Explain Divorce to a Toddler?

The question that many people want to ask is this: would it be possible for a toddler to understand divorce? The answer is yes, you actually can.

It’s possible for parents to let their babies know that the bond needs to drift away, somehow. Breaking the news is heartbreaking, but it needs to be done – this is the first step in helping your little munchkin cope with the situation.

Child Mind Institute Psychologist, Jamie Howard, Ph.D., suggests a sit-down talk from both parents explaining the situation and what would go forth.

This is a moment when children want reassurance, and the best way to do so is to demonstrate to your children that you are still on the same side when it comes to parenting. Make them feel the “we’ve got this” feeling even if it’s untrue.”

Are There Positive Effects of Divorce on Children?

Yes, there are ways in which divorce can help a child with their life. The Divorce Surgery UK says that children who were unfortunate enough to suffer through their parents’ divorce can:

  • Learn excellent conflict resolution skills
  • They get to spend more intimate time with each parent
  • They tend to be more resilient and adaptable to the environment they will be in
  • Better management of time due to co-parenting

It’s not something that’s “making yourself feel better” type of vibe, but these have been the things observed by experts and doctors regarding this particular scenario.

How Do You Help a Child Cope With a Divorce?

Helping a child cope with a divorce may seem unnatural. However, it’s one of the few things that you, as parents, can do to allow your child to grow and develop without having to think of divorce as “bad.”

The Cleveland Clinic, partnered with Pediatrician Heather Sever, D.O., explains that parents going through a rough period don’t have to include their child in it.

Children, regardless of age, notice when their parents are going through a tough period. While children show their stress in different ways at different ages, it is critical for parents to be as open and honest as possible, especially in stressful situations.”

With this, they gave a few points and outlines about co-parenting tips and strategies, as well as the best coping techniques parents can do.

Stay Involved In Their Lives!

Many parents look at divorce as a “free pass” from their children. Don’t be like that – don’t make it that way. As much as possible, stay involved with what’s happening with your children.

Make them feel like you love them and that you care about them even after the situation.

Further Emotional Support

Children want emotional support and confirmation that the divorce is not their fault and that they are unconditionally loved.

Encourage them to express their emotions and provide a comfortable environment for open dialogues. Moreover, give validation to their feelings and provide a sense of empathy and comfort.

Avoid Bad Mouthing

If you make negative remarks about the other parent, your child will feel compelled to agree with you. This is where the “choose sides” idea comes from. Refrain from pointing the finger at the other parent. Instead, build them up and make your child feel like nothing has changed!

Maintenance and Consistency

Try to create a regular schedule for your child to offer stability and a sense of security.

This can include consistency in daily activities, mealtimes, and sleep rituals. Doing this religiously can tremendously aid in their adjustment to the changes – they might not even feel like divorce is a bad thing while they’re young!

Honest Communication

Children deserve to hear the facts about why you are divorcing, but it must be simplified. Prepare ahead of time and carefully transmit facts.

Tell them while you are together, if possible. Attempt to explain the changes coming, especially in living arrangements, activities, and school routines, and others.

Counseling and Professional Assistance

Last but most definitely not least is to try and seek help. Some children will take this lightly, while others won’t – no matter how hard you try. Should this be the case for you, seek help from a therapist or a counselor. What this does is provide that extra reassurance to your child that everything is fine.

FAQs

I know you have a few questions in mind related to it. So, we gathered and answered the most commonly asked questions about it so you don’t have to!

How Does Divorce Affect A Child’s Self-Esteem?

Divorce has a ton of effects on the child, and self-esteem is one of those. The breakdown of the family unit, as well as the changes that come with divorce, can put a child’s feeling of security, belonging, and personal identity at risk. Some youngsters may be resilient and adaptable, but others may be more prone to the negative consequences.

How Does Divorce Affect My Child’s Personality?

Personality-wise, it can affect how your youngster views relationship-building and how to interact and engage with people. However, it will depend on how you, as parents, handle it and the things that you do in order for them to cope with the necessary adjustments.

What Are The 5 Stages Of Divorce Grief For Children?

In simple terms, the five stages of divorce grief that children go through are: (1) denial, (2) anger, (3) bargaining, (4) depression, and (5) acceptance. Most parents don’t actually think about it – they rarely care, but this is what they typically go through.

Final Verdict

I was one of the victims of the people who didn’t think that there are no psychological effects of divorce on children. I was wrong. Living a healthy life also includes maintaining inter and intra-personal relationships with the people close to you.

So, to say that there are no effects is pure negligence. There are mental, emotional, psychological effects on children – and they should never be overlooked. 

Photo of author
Daisy Martinez, a Certified Financial Planner and mother of two, blends finance expertise from Ohio State and Anderson School of Management with hands-on parenting insights. Founder of "mamallove.com" and "cashsavvytips.com", she's passionate about guiding parents in financial and parenting realms.

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