Regardless of when a married couple decides to divorce, there is likely to be a significant impact on young children, particularly if there is considerable conflict. Unlike their parents, children may feel that they didn’t have a say in the life-changing events and wonder what happened. Sometimes the children internalize the conflict, and have significant guilt for the breakdown of the parent’s relationship.
Regardless of whether a divorce has been mutually decided or undertaken by one party, parents need to understand that involving the children in the conflict or making them into spies or confidantes can cause lasting detriment. Younger children may have great difficulty processing life changes, and even older children can struggle in the case of a high conflict breakup.
Babies and toddlers
Babies and toddlers can manifest stress by becoming clingy, irritable and inconsolable. While they cannot yet verbalize their discomfort, these non-verbal behaviors should be taken seriously.
At this age, children become much more inquisitive, and they understand much more than parents realize. Tones of voice, loud arguing and tension can affect a child’s sleep, and cause them to become introverted and shy. More importantly, children need routine to thrive, and when a marriage ends, routine is usually the first thing that gets impacted.
Elementary school-age (6–12)
These children are old enough to remember a time when their family was together, and conflict was at a minimum. They also are at a prime age to be used against the other parents, being asked to report back, to become an ally, and in some cases, taught that loving the other parent is wrong. As these children move into their teen years, some suffer from depression, poor grades and feelings of guilt.
What parents should keep in mind
Regardless of age, parents should strive to keep the peace during and after their divorce. Don’t argue in front of your children. Settle disputes as adults, without appealing to a child to “help.” Realize that the children should love the other parent. Be aware that the Courts are sensitive to alienation, and recognize it as a major problem when parents divorce. While it is difficult to be cordial to the other spouse, particularly if that spouse is behaving poorly in the divorce action, remember that the children should not be placed in the middle of these conflicts.