Emotions run high when parents decide to divorce, and with children involved, no one really wins. Numerous studies have been done on children of divorce and how they are impacted when their parents’ relationship breaks down.
In some cases, there may be a sense of relief (especially when abuse is the root cause), but for some children , it is harder to digest. One of the things psychologists have been analyzing is the child’s age when a divorce occurs and how much of a negative effect this traumatic event and its conflict can bring.
Generally, babies and kids up to age 3 don’t necessarily understand what is going on, but they can sense change. Older toddlers recognize changes in the household and the absence of one parent in the home, which can lead to confusion and emotional disturbances.
At this age, the world revolves around your parents, and anything that shakes that up is damaging. Age by age, there are different levels of understanding and the ability to communicate their feelings.
Psychology experts like Dr. Scott Carroll contend that younger children may handle the memories of divorce better than older ones. It’s rough at any age, but in the thick of seeing it, some psychologists believe that there’s a certain period where it’s the hardest. The age where it’s the worst? Around 10 or 11.
By that age, kids understand how important the parents’ relationship is to them and the household, and a breakup is stressful. It is easy for a child this age to have feelings of abandonment or to feel like one parent is at fault. For a child to witness conflict, anger, or badmouthing only pours gasoline on the open wounds.
Add to that the emotional and mental hardship that occurs when parents make their children the intermediaries when it comes to communication. Being stuck in the middle only adds to their anguish, and can lead to resentment as they grow older. The pain never really goes away.
Dr. Carroll emphasizes that the preteen years are very egocentric for kids, and they may worry about how their friends perceive their parents’ split or feel obligated to pick a side. They will have lots of questions about their care, the household’s future, and what will change.
What’s important for parents to realize is that their kids are at a sensitive age where they are dependent but are trying to learn how to be independent. To cope the with effects of divorce, they will need to lean on both parents for reassurance and love. It’s normal for them to feel angry, abandoned, and or even responsible.
For preteens, child psychologists suggest moms and dads do the following things to support their kids during this traumatic period:
- Watch for signs of withdrawal and work with a counselor or therapist to get assistance.
- Keep their routines consistent.
- Be honest.
- Remind your child that your love him and it’s not his fault.
- Avoid badmouthing the other parent in the front of the child or using the child to convey messages to the other parent.
- Give your child time and space to process things, but always be available to talk when he/she wants to.
Transitioning from being a two-parent household into two separate ones isn’t easy for anyone, but handling things maturely and lovingly (if possible) can go a long way in how you meet your child’s emotional needs. Keep love at the core.
Are you a child of divorced parents? Have you had to help your children learn to cope with a split? Is there an age that you think was most difficult?