Effects of Divorce on Children
Divorce affects children differently, depending on their gender, age, temperament and stage of development. Their world, their security and their stability seems to fall apart when their parents divorce. Following are responses that researchers have found among children of divorce. While these are common responses, each child is an individual and may or may not experience all of the effects.
- They worry that their parents don't love them anymore and they feel abandoned. They feel like the parent who left has divorced them too.
- They feel powerless and helpless because they can't get their parents back together.
- They feel angry although they may not express their anger.
- They often feel they are at fault. They may believe something they did or said caused a parent to leave.
- They grieve. Divorce is a loss in the lives of children and parents. They experience a grieving process very similar to mourning a death.
- They experience conflicts of loyalty.
- They may “act out” in some way.
Acting out behavior ranges from very mild behavior, such as difficulty sleeping, to extremely destructive behavior, such as suicide, drug abuse, or violence.
Other behaviors may include problems in school, nervous habits, repetitive physical behaviors, and regressive behaviors such as bed-wetting, fears, and use of comfort items. Children may become clingy and whiny and they may need greater understanding of their moods and behavior. They have a greater need to be nurtured.
Older children are more likely to be disobedient, to talk back and to engage in risky behavior. Some children may have trouble sleeping, experience physical symptoms such as headaches and stomachaches. They may be distractible and restless.
These behaviors are common for children experiencing divorce. There is a false assumption children are "naturally resilient" and can "get through" a divorce with little or no impact on their lives. Instead, they need support systems and individuals to help during the transition.
You may also be interested in Helping Children Cope with Divorce.
Allen, R., Neil, McCann, E., Musich, J., and Tralle, M. (2010). Parents Forever: The impact of divorce on children parent handbook. St. Paul, MN: University of Minnesota Extension.
Bosch, Geraldine (1995). Children of divorce: A parenting program. North Dakota State University Extension Service.