HOW CHILDREN’S DEVELOPMENTAL STAGE INFLUENCES THEIR RESPONSE TO DIVORCE
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
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