Divorce is not easy for any child; however, research shows that your child's age affects how difficult the divorce will be for them to handle.
You may think that teens would have the hardest time dealing with parental separation - after all, teens are emotional, hormonal and have spent years with both parents in the home. However, a study published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin argues that very young children actually have the hardest time with divorce.
Why do young children struggle more than older children?
Young children rely completely upon their parents. Unlike older children and teens, young children lack an established friend group, and parents make up the bulk of their social world. Additionally, these early years of development revolve around bonding and establishing familial bonds.
You may be thinking "but a young child cannot possibly understand the complexities of divorce." You are correct, but only to a certain extent. Young children can sense tension and uncertainty in the household. They feed off of these negative emotions, yet are unable to understand why they are there. They commonly misdirect the negative emotions, and think that the anger is directed at them.
What can you do?
Create an environment in which your child feels safe and loved by both spouses:
- Explain: Clear up confusion by clearly explaining that you and your spouse are getting a divorce. Stress that both of you love your child and will continue to be there for them. There are a number of young children's books that explain divorce if you need help explaining the concept.
- Relax: You are going through a very traumatic time, and it is natural for you to be emotional. However, the more calm you appear to your child, the easier the divorce will be for them. Children panic when they see their parents panic.
- Schedule: Your life is overturning, but don't let your child's life be disrupted. Keep your child's routine as normal as possible. Maintain bedtimes, mealtimes, set up regular play dates and outings that your child will enjoy.
What if your child is still upset?
Despite your best efforts, it is natural for your child to struggle with the divorce. Give it time. It will take a while for your family to settle into a new rhythm of life. Take it day by day, and be gentle with yourself as you step into the unknown.
If you feel like your child needs another emotional outlet, consider having them speak with a therapist or psychologist who can walk them through this difficult time. 25% of children whose parents are divorced end up with some sort of emotional or behavioral difficulties. Watch for changes in personality and behavior, and address any problems head on for an easier resolution.