Split & Divided Loyalties: What Damages Children Most in Divorce

Children Often Feel Divided Loyalties During & After Divorce

Loyalties are always tested in divorce. The process is difficult on adults and families. Loyalties are greatly tested on the couple’s sons and daughters. Children of all ages, but especially those who are minors or still living at home, can be traumatized by divorce. They often are burdened by feeling of sadness, guilt, anger, and confusion. Besides that, children can be acting out and feeling anxiety when their parents are going through the divorce process. It is important to learn and understand how children of different ages and sexes cope with divorce. This will help you understand how to approach the topic of divorce with your child and help the divorce process go smoother. Read some tips to help your children avoid this painful experience and to cope in healthier ways.

Younger Children

Infants do not have the cognitive ability to understand or comprehend divorce and its emotions. Children whose parents divorced when they were infants have no memory of the divorce and generally grow up having no memories of their parents ever being together.

Toddlers (ages 2-5) have limited cognitive ability to understand divorce or their own emotions. They will miss the parent that used to live at home. It is nearly impossible to explain divorce to a toddler. They are not able to cope with their love of each parent and the fact that they are no longer living together.

For all children, especially young ones, divorce can often create doubts in the inherent trust and safety they have had in their parents. Their lives can feel unpredictable and changing in unmeasurable ways. Their living arrangements may be transitioning from stability to an unstable feeling of moving from house-to-house. Young children may struggle with being away from their parent or primary caregiver for extended periods, or even for the first time ever in their short existence.

Your younger child - who may not be fully able to articulate their thoughts, feelings and emotions like a teen or adult - may ask themselves: "What is going to happen to next?" "Who will take care of me?" "If my parents can stop loving each other, will they or could they stop loving me?" "Where will I live?" "Will this affect my relationship with my siblings?"

Be Mindful To Open-Up Communication With Your Younger Child!

Teens & Older Children

School-age children (ages 6-12) often take divorce the hardest. Although they understand the concept of divorce, their active imaginations hold onto the belief that their parents may someday get back together. At these ages, children are egocentric and tend to believe that the divorce is somehow their fault. They often conjure-up ways to reconcile their parent’s relationship. Children at this age go through a grieving process during divorce and may often feel anger, aggression, sadness, and hostility towards one parent or the other. Withdraw from social and academic activities is common.

Teenagers (ages 13-19) have a much more developed understanding of divorce. They have likely witnessed other family members or friends’ parents go through divorce. They understand the concepts and general repercussions of infidelity, mistrust, and betrayal. This can lead teenagers to place the blame of the divorce on one parent. They will often feel compelled to choose sides in the divorce. Their loyalties are divided between both parents. Therefore, this time-period leads some teens to become rebellious and be more susceptible to experimenting with harmful external stimuli. Some teens feel that if they work extremely hard in school and get amazing grades and are very compliant, perhaps their parents will reconcile.

Be Mindful That Your Child's Age & Maturity Impacts Their Experience!

The Experience of Boys and Girls

Studies have shown that boys and girls react differently to their parents’ divorce. Both sexes experience negative impacts from divorce, including coping with where their loyalties remain: mom or dad. More importantly, parents going through divorce – and especially post-divorce – should work hard and collaboratively to ensure that their sons and daughters never have to choose sides.

Parents of boys impacted by pre- or post-divorce issues may find it easier to notice the impact. This is because boys tend to act-out behaviorally and expressively. Conversely, girls may internalize their emotions and while very much impacted, may not clearly show it externally.

Hetherington & Kelly (2002) found that boys tended to get less emotional support than girls from their parents during and after divorce. This failure to address boys’ needs negatively impacts their ability to cope in healthy ways about their parents’ divorce.

Girls learn that expressing emotions is a positive characteristic and behavior. Boys tend to believe that showing emotions is a sign of weakness. They learn to “man-up” or “just keep it inside”.  This restriction often has negative effects on children as they grow into adults. There are many methods you can take to help your children understand their feelings during the divorce process, regardless if they are boys or girls.

Be Mindful To Encourage Your Child's Expression of Their Feelings!

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