When parents decide to divorce or separate, their child or children are faced with multiple stressors. Just knowing that things are going to be different after a divorce, but not knowing exactly how can be frightening for most children. Children from divorced families have to learn to cope with the many changes in their family. Children may have to move from their family home or change schools. They may have to live in two homes. They may have more responsibility placed on them. Often, parents initially focus on these immediate negative effects of the family breaking up, and do not find comfort in knowing that other families that have divorced eventually do okay.
Adjustment to divorce can take up to two years or even longer, and factors such as the child’s age, gender and temperament will influence how well the child adjusts.
A preschooler’s reaction to and ability to understand their parents’ divorce will be very different from that of an adolescent. Preschoolers are often baffled by their parents divorce and lack the coping skills necessary to deal with all the changes associated with divorce, which place them at risk of having more adjustment problems than an older child. Children tend to be egocentric at this age, and will often blame themselves for the divorce. They may feel that it is their responsibility to bring their parents back together.
Although children between the ages of 6 to 8 continue to have fantasies about reconciling their parents, they are less likely to blame themselves for the divorce. The older child (ages 9 to 12) is better able to understand their parents’ divorce. Adolescents’ ability to understand and conceptualize their parents’ divorce will enhance their adjustment. However, they are also faced with the task of integrating the divorce experience with their own developing identities.
Children’s adjustment is also determined by the amount of conflict the parents had before the divorce. Researchers have found that children in divorced families, where there is little conflict following the divorce, do not differ in adjustment than children from low conflict intact families. It is therefore important to consider working through these issues with a Psychologist, and if you are at all concerned about your child’s adjustment, to seek the help of a child psychologist. Bright Ideas Psychology can provide you with help to make this transition as smooth as possible and to help your child adjust to ensure a brighter future for all.