Age of Children and their Divorce Reaction



There are many factors that contribute to a child’s

response to their parents’ divorce.  It’s hard to predict how

any one child will react but a major factor is the child’s

own developmental level.

Pre-school children take everything personally.  Having

seen their parents’ relationship come apart, they may

conclude that other relationships will too.  This may cause

them to worry about being abandoned with no one to take care

of them.  Even routine separations like going to day-care or even

to bed may become filled with dread of loss or death.

There may be a regression to an earlier stage of

development, more dependency, reversion to the security

blanket, nightmares, lapses in toileting skills, more crying.

Grade-schoolers understand better what is really going

on.  Their primary reaction is grief and yearning for things

to be different.  They may have feelings of deprivation, beg

for gifts, worry about hunger and loneliness.  Children this

age usually don’t take sides but feel divided in their

loyalties, sometimes as if they, themselves, were splitting

in two.  That hurts!

Pre-teens are more likely to feel angry, to align with

one parent and blame the other.  Often, they will make

attempts to patch things up, work out compromises, bargain

with each parent.  It is not unusual to see somatic symptoms

such as headaches, stomach problems or asthma brought about

by stress.

Teenagers are likely to react in a self-centered way.

No surprise there.  They voice concerns like, “Will I still

get a car?”, “Who will pay for college?”, “What will my

friends think?”.  Sometimes they pull further away from both

parents as though trying to grow up faster.  Other teens

regress and misbehave.  They may begin to doubt their own

future success in love, sex and marriage.

Obviously, individual differences as well as differences

in the way parents get their divorce done have a bearing on

children’s adjustment but developmental stage is a major




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