Many kids believe that they had something to do with the
divorce. They may remember times when they argued with
their parents, received poor grades, or got in trouble. They
may associate that conflict with their parents’ conflict and
blame themselves. Also, some children may worry that their
parents will stop loving them, or that they will never see one
of their parents. Sometimes young children do not
understand the meaning and permanence of divorce.

Children of divorce almost universally feel guilty about what
has happened—however irrational that reaction may seem.
They tend to believe the divorce was all their fault. Taking on
the blame for the breakup of the marriage is one way of
making sense out of events they do not understand. Guilt
commonly leads to feelings of not being good enough,
especially when one parent is less involved in the child's life
after the divorce. The child is left wondering "What did I do
that caused Mom or Dad not to want to spend time with me?"

Children need the opportunity to talk about why they feel at
fault and how they think they caused the divorce. These
conversations are unlikely to create or exacerbate a problem,
since the child already feels guilty. Parents do best by their
children when they enable them to talk out the inevitable
conflicts and confusion.

Treat your child’s confusion or misunderstandings with
patience. Reassure your children that both parents will
continue to love them and that they are not responsible
for the divorce. Gently clarify any misunderstandings about
the custody arrangements.

Many children go through their parents’ divorce with relatively
few problems or permanent negative effects. However, for
other children, the effects of divorce can be traumatic and
long-lived. Changes in a child’s living arrangements, time with
parents, education and lifestyle can trigger the body’s fight-
or-flight response –- anger or fear. But when a child cannot
adequately express or mentally process those emotions, the
child may feel extremely powerless and “freeze.”

Different children in the same family may have a dramatically
different emotional reaction to the numerous changes related
to divorce. Your attitude shapes your children's attitude. Your
words and actions can either expose your children to
unnecessary emotional pain or help them develop in positive

Remember, helping you and your children through these
difficult times will lead to better mental health, which in turn
creates better health over all.  Good over all health will also
lead to affordable term life insurance, which will ensure your
loved ones in the years to come.

Steps to reduce negative effects of a divorce on your

·   Allow your children to communicate openly. Encourage
them to describe their feelings and express the sadness,
fear and anger they may be experiencing. This gives you an
opportunity  to provide comfort and reassure them that they
will be loved and continue to be cared for and safe.

·   Be honest about the potential for emotional trauma on
each of your kids. Some children respond to adversity  by
withdrawing emotionally or freezing. These quiet children may
be more upset, and in greater need of help, than children
whose emotional upset  is obvious.    

·   Find support for yourself and your children. It takes a
village to get things right. Reach out and ask for help from
friends, family members, religious and secular support
groups, counselors and therapists.    

·   Offer your children choices, whenever possible, to increase
their sense of power over their lives. These can include food
choices, clothing choices and other choices that don’t disrupt
your routines or endanger their well-being.   

·   Provide continuity. Children need the sense of continuity
provided by a certain amount of structure such as dependable
meal and bed times, leisure and work times.  

Don’t expose your kids to marital conflict:

·   Choose to focus on the strengths of all the family

·   Develop an amicable relationship with your spouse, as soon
as possible, and be polite in your interactions.

·   Do not argue with your spouse in front of your children or
on the phone.

·   Refrain from talking with your children about details of your
spouse’s negative behavior.

Steps to take care of yourself:

·   Avoid isolating yourself from people.

·   Build your support group. Old friends may become
casualties in divorce battles.

·   Exercise and play to relieve stress.

·   Pray, meditate or practice the relaxation response.

·   Provide and eat a balanced diet.

·   Take care of your health and your children’s health.

Talking with children about separation and divorce:

When talking with your children about separation or divorce,
it is important to be honest, but not critical of your spouse.
Most children want to know why their lives are being upset.
Depending on the age of your children and reason for divorce,
this may require some diplomacy. As children mature, they will
probably want more information.  

Here are a few suggestions:

· Admit that this will be sad and upsetting for everyone.

· Be emotionally available to comfort them. Even if there
has been much conflict in the home, children may deeply
experience the loss of the leaving parent, or the loss of hope
for reconciliation.

· Be respectful of your spouse when giving the reasons for
the separation.

· Do not discuss each other’s faults or problems with the child.

· Do not keep it a secret or wait until the last minute.

· Keep things simple and straight-forward.

· Make plans to talk with your children before any changes in
the living arrangements occur.

· Plan to talk when your spouse is present, if possible.

· Reassure your child that you both still love them and will
always be their parents.

· Remind your children of your love.

· Tell them about changes in living arrangements, school or
activities. Let them know when they will happen. But do not
overwhelm kids with details.

· Tell them that your marriage problems are not their fault.
Let them know they are not responsible for fixing them.

· Tell them the divorce is not their fault.

· Tell your child together.

Additional support for your child after separation or

Children need people with whom they can comfortably
express their negative emotions. Some kids may avoid talking
to their parents because they don’t want to hurt them or
because they feel guilty adding to their problems. Others may
feel intense anger and emotionally separate themselves from
their parents, closing the door to communication. In these
and other cases, children may benefit from having other
people to talk to. Kids also need skills to manage stress and
coping with situations over which they have no control.
Problem solving skills can help kids adjust to the issues of
divorced families.

Additional skills and support may come from:

·        Faith-based counseling. Some religious organizations
provide support for families that are going through a divorce
or dealing with the effects of a divorce.

·        Family friends. Visits or outings with family friends may
also be helpful for kids who need help adapting to a divorce.

·        Relatives. Sometimes aunts, uncles or grandparents
may provide a familiar environment where kids can share their
deeper feelings. When parents do not want their children to
visit the ex-spouse’s relatives, it may help to honestly
question if that decision is in the best interest of the child.

·        School counselors. In some schools, counselors may
provide services for a limited time.

·        Teachers. Educators should be informed when parents
are separating or divorcing. They can provide valuable support
during the many hours your child is in school. It also helps
them understand your child’s behavior and prevent problems
with classmates and grades.

·        Trained mental health professionals. A child or family
therapist can help children express and work out their
complicated emotions in a safe environment, and can help
normalize and stabilize the child’s situation. Some therapists
may also conduct counseling groups for children, which helps
decrease the sense of aloneness in this new life problem.

Tips on visitation:

  • Be flexible in your parenting schedule. When schedules
    are used as rigid structures to control access time with
    kids, they serve as an impetus for conflict. When that
    happens, kids blame themselves for the parental dispute.

  • Talk to your kids. Give them simple, straight-forward
    answers without vilifying or blaming the other parent.  
    Also, listen to your kids as they express concerns over
    the divorce.

  • Explain to your kids that the divorce is not their fault.
    This message is best given by both parents together.
    Kids naturally assume they are responsible for the

  • Seek counseling for your kids if they are having a
    difficult time adjusting. Counseling is most effective
    when both parents are supportive and individually

  • Be honest with your kids rather than creating stories
    like "Dad is out of town.”  Kids know if you are trying to
    hide something, even if the purpose is honorable.

  • Don’t interrogate your kids when they return from
    visitation with the other parent. Questions like "what did
    you guys do" or "does your mom have a boyfriend"
    pressures kids to take sides. This pressure may result in
    depression, anger, falling grades, and disobedience.

  • Try not to put your kids in the middle. That means don't
    ask them where they want to live or who they want to
    live with.  Avoid using the kids to relay messages to
    your ex-spouse, even messages related to visitation.
    Kids need two parents even if the parents don't see eye
    to eye or have different philosophies of child rearing.
    Placing kids in the middle tears those relationships
    causing kids to withdraw or become depressed.

  • Consult the other parent before making visitation or
    custody arrangements with the kids. If there are
    conflicting plans, this places the other parent in the role
    of the "bad guy", having to say "no" to a child's
Children & Divorce--
Ask The Parent Coach—


How do kids react to divorce, and does
their ability to cope with divorce depend
on their age?

Thank you for your input,



Hi T.,

Each kid will react somewhat differently
to divorce or separation. And – yes – age
makes a difference with respect to
coping ability.

Very little is known about the effects of
divorce on kids younger than 2 years of
age. When the bonds between parent
and kid are severely disrupted, there
may be a problem. However, very young
kids do not necessarily suffer just
because a divorce has occurred. Both
parents can stay actively involved in kid
rearing, or one parent can maintain a
strong, healthy relationship with the kid.

Kids from 3 to 5 years of age who go
through divorce tend to be fearful and
resort to immature or aggressive
behavior. They might return to security
blankets or old toys. Some may have
lapses in toilet training. These types of
behavior rarely last for more than a few
weeks. Most kids are confused about
what is happening or about why mom
or dad has left. Kids often deny that
anything has changed.

Preschoolers may also become less
imaginative and cooperative in their play.
Kids may spend more time playing by
themselves than with friends. They also
may show more anxiety, depression,
anger, and apathy in their play and in
their interactions with both kids and
adults. Socially, preschoolers tend to
spend more time seeking attention and
the nearness of adults. At the same
time, they may resist adult suggestions
and commands. Some kids become
much more aggressive.

On the positive side, preschool kids
also try to understand the situation.
They attempt to bring some order to
their world by trying to explain to them-
selves what is happening and by trying
to be well behaved. Though it takes
some time, most kids gradually
understand the situation and adjust to
it. In the short term, there do not seem
to be any effects on the academic
achievement of kids. They are likely to
do just as well in school as they did
before the divorce.

Kids 6 to 8 years old have some
understanding of what the divorce
means. With their better sense of what
is taking place, these kids are able to
deal with what is happening. Many
young school-age kids experience deep
grief over the breakup of the family.
Some kids are fearful and yearn for the
absent parent.

If the mother has custody, boys tend to
behave aggressively toward her. Many
kids feel conflicts in loyalty to one parent
or the other, even if the parents made no
effort to make the kid take sides.

Older school-age kids - ages 9 to 12 - try
to understand the divorce and keep their
behavior and emotions under control.
While they may have feelings of loss,
embarrassment, and resentment, these
kids actively involve themselves in play
and activities to help manage these
feelings. They may make up games and
act out make-believe dramas
concerning their parents' divorce. These
activities seem to help the kid cope with
the situation. Anger is perhaps the most
intense emotion felt by this group of
kids. This anger may be aimed at one
parent or at both parents. These kids
may also be more easily drawn into
choosing one parent over the other. Kids
who become drawn into struggles
between the parents tend to have more

While teenagers understand the divorce
situation better than younger kids do,
they too experience some difficulties
adjusting. Many teens feel that they are
being pushed into adulthood with little
time for a transition from childhood. They
may feel a loss of support in handling
emerging sexual and aggressive
feelings. In some cases, teenagers may
even feel that they are in competition
with their parents when they see them
going on dates and becoming
romantically involved. Sometimes, teens
have grave doubts about their own ability
to get married or stay married.

Many teenagers seem to mature more
quickly following a divorce. They take on
increased responsibilities in the home,
show an increased appreciation of
money, and gain insight into their own
relationships with others. On the other
hand, teenagers may be drawn into the
role of taking care of the parent and fail
to develop relationships with peers.

Attention Men: If You Are Facing Divorce,
You Might Want To Read This:

Learn How To Win Your Divorce Without
Losing Your Shorts or Your Kids!