Effects of Divorce on Kids

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Helping Kids Thrive

The Mom Psychologist Dr. Jazmine McCoy kindly shared her time and expertise with us during our Co-Parenting & Coffee Event. As a clinical psychologist, author, parent educator, and mom, Dr. McCoy provided the audience with guidelines on how parents can help their kids thrive after a divorce.
 

Emotional Toolbox

Research has shown that a positive, caring caregiver who provides warmth, support, and responsiveness to a child’s needs is the best for their emotional wellbeing. Helping your kids adjust emotionally to their life changes can be the most significant buffer for them during a divorce.

The first year is reported to be the most difficult for kids, peaking at the end of year one, and declining as you near the end of year two. Towards the end of the two-year point, parents report a level of stability and emotional adjustment mirroring the child’s emotional stability before the divorce.

Of course, this is like “putting your oxygen mask on before you try help someone else.” Parents must consider how well they are doing and how they, too, can thrive post-divorce. Kids are looking to the adults to understand how to make sense of these changes and learn better what they should do along the way. We must be mindful of the mental state of the adults in the lives of children going through divorce.

This sentiment relates to Dr. McCoy’s tip about creating a strong support system. Your support system could be friends, family, a therapist, or anyone else who can provide you with the tools and the resources you need to support your kids.
 

Strong Co-Parenting Relationships

Strong co-parenting relationships include parental involvement (when possible), having flexibility and consideration, and having communication between the parents. Of course, these are not always possible.

High conflict is one of the most damaging experiences for children, whether their parents are together romantically or not. Creating opportunities for conflict resolution and healthy communication between both parents can be very impactful. Creating purposeful communication, speaking clearly and calmly, and planning scheduled check-ins are all a part of developing that relationship with your co-parent.

When discussing your child’s other parent, celebrate their bond with that parent, and exercise emotional maturity. Try to have both parents involved (or at least aware of) important events in your child’s life. When the relationship is there, parents can discuss the things that are working or not working with the kids when it comes to discipline, school progress, or their future goals.
 

Infants and Toddlers

Infants and toddlers can’t understand the reason for a conflict, but they can definitely sense the tension in the home. Separation anxiety begins to build around nine months, as kids realize that you exist outside of their sight. This anxiety can be heightened as their concept of the future remains vague and incomprehensible. They aren’t sure what the future holds, so any break in the patterns they rely on can result in the feeling of a loss of safety.
 

Preschool

For preschool-aged kids, who are about 3-5, the ego-centric nature is very prominent. They believe that all things happen because of them, which can lead to increased self-blame. Additionally, their imagination is expanding, which can make it difficult for them to differentiate reality and fantasy. This crossover view of reality and fantasy can lead preschool-aged kids to start to think about different scenarios that have not happened and to imagine that they are the reason the divorce is taking place.

Kids at this age may cry, require more attention, and even exhibit more aggressive behaviors such as having toilet accidents or sucking their thumb.
 

Tips for Kids 0-5

For kids at these ages, retaining a consistent schedule between both homes is important. Children of all ages thrive on a routine and structure; their discipline and day-to-day activities can give them a sense of security and predictability.

Since these young children can create incorrect assumptions and lack the language needed to understand what is happening, concrete communication becomes very important. When discussing divorce, make sure your kids know what that means and explain it to them in ways they can grasp. Try sentences such as:
  • “We are not happy together, so [name] will move to another house.”
  • “We are not going to live together; we live in different homes, but we both love you so much.”
  • “We have decided it works for us to live in two homes, this has nothing to do with you, and we still love you very much.”
For preschool-aged kids, expect many questions (and a lot of the same questions over and over) as they try to process these changes. Allow them to come to you and create a safe place for them to get answers. You want to be able to debunk stories they invent in their heads and give them age-appropriate information before their imagination takes over.

Additionally, Dr. McCoy recommends spending one-on-one time with your kids every day, even if it is five or ten minutes of dedicated play that will allow you to reduce their stress levels and connect with them.

There are many great books about divorce that can spark conversations, normalize divorce, and engage your kids. Some titles she recommends:  

School-Aged Kids

Kids around 6-11 may feel like the parents are divorcing them and can fear losing the parent with whom they have less contact. At this age, they may align themselves with one parent over the other. Kids may also have fantasies about rescuing their parents’ marriage and getting them back together.


Tips for Kids Aged 6-11

Try to maintain consistent schedules as much as possible. Talk to your kids regularly and reassure them that neither parent will abandon them, the divorce is not their fault, and discuss what life will now be like for them. They are increasingly interested in their friends and extracurricular activities, so allow them to stay connected with the activities they enjoy that will increase their self-esteem.  


Teens

Teens may withdraw when it comes to divorce, and at this age, that is to be expected anyway. It is developmentally appropriate for them to turn to their peers instead of their parents. Teens are more likely to understand the finality of a divorce and blame the parents for the upheaval. At this age, they may exhibit behavior issues and changes.


Tips for Kids Aged 11-18

Teens are very interested in the future and their upcoming plans. Discuss what the future will hold and find things to look forward to experiencing together.

Validate their feelings of anger and allow them to process. Find opportunities to connect with your teen and a safe place for them to share their emotions. Counseling can give them someone safe to talk to and learn more coping skills to help them adjust to the changes.

Co-parenting requires additional education, extra mindfulness, and more patience, but it is possible to raise happy and resilient kids. Studies have shown that 80% of kids of that have experienced divorce have had no long-lasting effects on grades, relationships, or health. By considering their developmental stage and maintaining open communication, you can help your kids thrive.
 

 
If you want to learn more about Dr. Jazmine McCoy you can visit her website or follow her on Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube.
 

TalkingParents blogs are for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Always consult with a qualified attorney regarding legal matters.