Infants and Toddlers
It goes without saying that the more stressful the divorce, the more impact the divorce will have on your children. At this stage in life, both infants and toddlers are very self-focused. Things like how they’ll get their next meal or who will give them a bath are very real concerns for them.
While this age group doesn’t fully understand the concept of divorce, they do recognize the absence of one parent. Also, they quickly pick up on feelings like stress and anxiety.
In response to this, they often become more difficult to comfort and tend to fuss a little more. They may even act more moody or aggressive.
Being unable to put feelings into words masterfully (or at all), infants and toddlers can become clingy or cry more often. The most common issue is that they may develop separation anxiety.
Still egocentric and unable to fully grasp the concept of divorce, young school-age children will often feel an insurmountable pressure to “fix” the situation. They don’t totally get why one parent isn’t there anymore but put themselves in charge of getting that parent back.
The impact of divorce on these young ones becomes more like a heavy and impossible weight of match-maker. But as they get older, it’s common for them to take sides out of anger and confusion.
Much like infants and toddlers, school-age children may also act out and become clingy, aggressive, disobedient, or simply withdraw completely. In fact, teachers often see children of divorce daydreaming in the classroom or unable to concentrate.
Although they don’t typically worry about their next meal, school-age children are wishful thinkers. The impact of divorce on this brilliant hope can turn into a crushing force when things don’t work out like the children want.
Pre-Teen and Teenagers
As you might have imagined, the impact of divorce on teens is vastly different than it is for younger children. Rather than becoming clingy and holding tight to the idea of security, teenagers are famous for withdrawing.
Instead of desperately increasing their need for a family unit, teens often use divorce as a catapult for their social network. So, rather than reach out to their family they create a pseudo-family with their circle of friends.
It’s not uncommon for them to feel betrayed by one or both parents and react with rebellious behavior as well.
Usually, children of divorce feel out of control because they don’t have a lot of say in the matter. Adopting an overly self-serving attitude, teens attempt to gain back some sense of control in the situation.
The impact of divorce on older teenagers and young adults is possibly the most unique. Since they have begun to open doors to the idea of romantic involvement, their parents’ divorce can shake this foundation to the core.
The idea of connectivity and even emotional intimacy is often replaced with a fear of commitment and apprehension.
Unsurprisingly, this age group can become very manipulative and controlling in all their relationships. The thought of abandonment can haunt them, so they prevent it at all cost.
Many young adults become close with the same-sex parent during these years. This isn’t because of a greater love for one parent over the other, but rather an increased need for gender identification.
If you’re going through a divorce or separation and would like support during this difficult time, please contact me. Together, we can formulate a strategy to manage any increased stress and help navigate complicated emotions for you or your children.