How can my divorce affect my children?

In a perfect world, we fall in love, have children and live happily ever after. While many spouses maintain long and loving relationships and divorce rates have fallen over the past decade, divorce remains a constant in our society.

If you have children, you want the process to be as painless as possible for their (and your) sake. Research shows parents who take a graceful approach to divorce may greatly reduce the negative impacts on their kids.

How do children perceive divorce?

Experts say the psychological impact varies depending upon their age. While adults are usually more prepared, it can be confusing and frightening for kids. Each child is different, but here are some common reactions depending on age:

  • Pre-schoolers: Younger kids usually can’t understand why their family is separating and their parents no longer love each other.
  • Middle-schoolers: They often believe the breakup is their fault, and they feel extreme guilt without assurances and justification from grownups.
  • High-schoolers: Anger is the most common feeling. They don’t understand why their life has turned upside down, and they often blame one parent or both for the divorce.

Psychologists say parents need to explain their divorce differently depending upon their children’s ages. However, if left unaddressed, these feelings can lead to an increased risk of mental illness, behavioral issues, a drop in academic performance and a higher risk of addiction.

Avoiding negative psychological consequences

If you’re a parent, seeing those risks can be frightening, but the good news is that you and your former partner can minimize or prevent those long-term effects. Here are ways to help your kids adapt:

  • Never put them in the middle of your dispute
  • Commit to co-parenting with your ex peacefully
  • Be on the same page over discipline in both households
  • Spend more time with your kids
  • Be understanding and help them cope

Separation and divorce can traumatize children, but that outcome isn’t written in stone. In many cases, divorce is the best option for everyone when a home’s atmosphere becomes unhealthy due to incompatibility between spouses. That’s why it’s advisable to be open and honest with your kids.