Children experience divorce differently based on their age at the time of separation. From infant to toddler to pre-teen, each age group has its own perspectives, responses, and understanding. In the paragraphs below, we provide a breakdown of age appropriate responses and potential concerns from each group.
A newborn infant, up to 18 months old, is not going to understand what is happening. Though children this young may not yet express feelings verbally, they can sense tension and conflict. In turn, this can often cause them to become leery of strangers, and very clingy to the parents. They may exhibit more frequent fits or tantrums.
In some cases, severe tensions and stress can even cause developmental delays or regressions. Children in this age category usually thrive on routine and familiarity. Any disruption in usual patterns is a signal to their developing brains that something is wrong.
A toddler, age 18 months to three years, or a preschooler, age three to six years, can definitely suffer from a disruption in the home caused by divorce. They too may exhibit more emotional outbursts than usual, as well as want constant attention. Behavior regression in these ages is also noticed during stressful divorces.
During the toddler years, a child is very self-focused, so it is possible for them to believe they are causing the problem between the parents. While the same is true for preschoolers, they are more apt to attempt to control the situation in an attempt to keep the parents together. This age group may carry bottled up emotional wounds from a divorce experience for years to come. They do not necessarily understand what is happening to their family, but they do know that they were unable to fix it.
School aged children from six to 11 have had more time with the parents together, thereby creating a deeper bond. They can experience feelings of abandonment, loss, and rejection after the divorce of parents, and should be encouraged to talk their feelings out. Don’t forget about after-divorce care for children. Oftentimes, the division of a family is just as stressful, if not more so, for them than it is for the parents.