When parents decide to divorce, many people are affected by this family change. Divorce is one of the most stressful life events a person can experience and each person feels the transition to a new normal. Over the past decade, the divorce rate in the United States has stayed around 50 percent. Therefore, more than half of the people in the United States have been in a family or related to a family member who has gone through this life change. Understanding personal and family adjustments can be managed, as any co-parenting decision. These are helpful tips on how to help children adjust during and after a divorce.

Infants cannot understand divorce or separation, yet they do know change and may show stress through excessive crying, eating problems or bowel disturbances. Toddlers will understand more and will show their stress by being clingy or anxious, cry more or have problems with sleeping. Young children may engage in magical thinking, believing their behavior can control what other people do. They also can blame themselves for the parent’s separation and need to be reassured that they are loved verbally and with physical affection.

School-age children are extremely sensitive to promises made to them, so be sure to follow through. They can exhibit signs of depression or fear of abandonment. Older children, pre-teen or teenagers, will understand divorce, but are not likely to be accepting of the change. Self-esteem can be threatened and they may feel shame, embarrassment, denial, withdrawal or depression. Regardless of the child’s age, they need to know they are loved, supported and not at fault for this life change. Keeping children out of the middle is highly important, meaning that they do not need to witness arguing, be the messenger for a parent to the other or be asked to keep secrets. Encouraging the relationship between children and the other parents can be difficult, but important for the adjustment of the child.

Sitting down and establishing goals can result in co-parenting success. Communication is not always easy, but for the sake of a child’s stability, is beneficial. If healthy communication cannot be attained, mediation is a process that enables parents who disagree to come together in a more peaceful, confidential setting with a third party. There is a great deal that goes into life change after a divorce or separation including custody, financial matters, taxes, schedules and medical visits for the children. 

If you would like more information on this topic, a fact sheet titled “Family Change: Separation and Divorce” is available at the K-State Research and Extension – Leavenworth County Office, 613 Holiday Plaza in Lansing. You can also call 913-364-5700 or email Chelsi Myer at chelsim@ksu.edu

Although divorce can be a traumatic life change for adults and children, there are ways to prioritize and help your children with this emotional event. 

Chelsi Myer is a family and consumer sciences agent for K-State Research and Extension – Leavenworth County.