Divorce and children
There was Heidi Klum and Seal, Arnold and Maria and now Tom and Katie. The couples make the headlines, but divorce doesn’t just affect the adults who hire lawyers to divide assets. It also affects the children.
Tracy M. Richards, family and couples therapist in Hershey, says stress from a divorce can manifest in different ways, depending on the age of the child. If you are going through a divorce and notice signs and symptoms such as these, it’s important to talk to your child about their concerns. If your child is not good at verbalizing how they feel or if you as a parent can’t get to the bottom of the problem, Richards says to seek help from a licensed family therapist, social worker, professional counselor, or psychologist that specializes in helping children and families.
0-3 years old
Infants and toddlers sense and are affected by the emotional upset of their primary caregivers and by drastic changes in their schedule (if custody arrangements result in prolonged separation).
Signs of stress: excessive crying, eating, and sleeping problems, clinginess, extreme stubbornness, regression from developmental age.
3-6 years old
At this age, reactions of fear and guilt come from the child's cognitive ability to fantasize and imagine. Children recognize their dependence on caregivers for their needs and safety. They are most likely to be confused by the separation and blame themselves.
Signs of stress: regression or not reaching developmental milestones (such as bedwetting), excessive and pronounced fears, anxieties, phobias and periods of noticeable sadness and withdrawal.
6-9 years old
Children experience extreme feelings of loss and sadness, they may grieve and dwell on the pain because the child has developed attachment to the family and have an idealized bond of love.
Signs of stress: aggressiveness, bullying, and uncooperativeness at home are prevalent in boys (tendency to over identify with father), depressive symptoms are prevalent with girls (tendency to over identify with mother), reluctance to take on new tasks or venture into the outside world, headaches and stomachaches without physical causes, nervous habits (nail biting, hair pulling, tics) and exaggerated phobias.
9-12 years old
Children this age can understand some reasons for divorce. Anger is the predominant reaction and is directed towards the parents. They may try to detach from a parent or parents and are most likely to side with one of the parents against the other.
Signs of stress: school performance declines, peer relationships suffer, delinquent behavior occurs, aggressiveness and bullying (more often with boys), girls can become too accommodating and can be taken advantage of in relationships, headaches and stomachaches without clear cause.
12-18 years old
These children are most affected by the divorce because of their need for attachment in order to launch into the bigger world. The divorce may cause the adolescent to become prematurely independent before they are ready. Adolescents understand more about their parent’s relationship and the divorce and may lose respect for one parent. Signs of stress: use of drugs and alcohol, sexual promiscuity, truancy, depression, as well as eating and sleeping irregularities.